How to Create a Calming Bedtime Routine for Toddlers

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These tips on creating a bedtime routine for toddlers (or preschoolers) is the KEY to gaining some sanity at night! End the power struggles once and for all.

I keep (some) of my sanity these days in two ways:

My toddler and preschooler go to bed crazy early (giving me several hours of quiet).

And they have a consistent bedtime routine that happens the exact same way every single night.

If you read that and IMMEDIATELY starting dreaming of magical days where bedtimes happen with ease, you aren’t alone.

In fact, I come across DOZENS of fellow mamas everyday who are at the end of their rope.

They’re fighting their toddler for hours with crazy power struggles. Bedtime is way too late. They’re absolutely exhausted by their bedtime routine.

I’ve been there, so trust me when I say that I get it.

In fact, once upon a time we used to do nothing but scoop up my now 4-year-old around MIDNIGHT and all go to bed together. Not only is this crazy looking back, it did not work for ANY of us.

Now? We have a consistent bedtime routine and a bedtime of 6:30PM.

Want to know how I got here? Keep reading, because I’m sharing all the goods in this post.

why are bedtime routines important for toddlers?

If you clicked over to this post not completely convinced that you actually NEED a bedtime routine for your toddler, I’m here to provide the information you’re looking for.

I myself used to believe it didn’t matter.

You can certainly get by without a routine or bedtime, but eventually you’ll want to have one. I used to think that letting HER choose her bedtime taught her to listen to her body and go to bed when she’s tired more.

Which yes, is true…. but there’s even more benefits to having an early routine. (And if I do it right, they’re both tired at bedtime so we are still teaching them to listen to their body.)

they know what to expect

Kids THRIVE on routines – it helps them know what to expect. Bedtime routines are no different!

I was never taught the importance of a good routine so I naturally struggle with this. But nowadays, we have a routine for EVERYTHING – a morning routine, a lunchtime routine, and a bedtime routine.

I started with a bedtime routine and slowly added overtime and let me say… I have watched my kids get calmer and calmer over time. They fight me less when we transition too – because they know what to expect!

easier time falling asleep

It used to take me HOURS AND HOURS to even get my kids to sleep. Oftentimes it could be as late as 2AM before my little even fell asleep! It’s absolute insanity looking back – I’m not sure how I survived that.

But since we have a routine that is calming and prepares them to fall asleep… they are generally out like a light within 30 minutes of laying down.

YES – that is actually a thing with toddlers and preschoolers!

It takes some work in the beginning, but it can be done!

they get to spend quality time with you

What I love most about bedtime is even if I’ve failed at being present and WITH THEM that day – I can depend on bedtime to give us at least some quality time together.

They will love this part of bedtime if you currently just send them off to bed without a real routine.

My kids absolutely love their routine now and absolutely WILL fight me if I skip anything LOL… which leads me to the next point.

you’re teaching them healthy habits

I see this in my preschooler now that she’s a bit older and I imagine I will see it in my toddler as he gets older too.

She recognizes the things that help her fall asleep and that she won’t get enough sleep if she falls asleep too late.

I’ve taught her these things by the words I use during our routine and she understands it!

I have told her from the beginning that she needs to go to sleep or she’ll be too tired to play. And some days – she has experienced it so she KNOWS IT now.

She also knows that her bath helps settle her down and sleep. If I even TRY to skip it… she will yell at me about how much she needs it to sleep good!

So obviously she is learning some really good healthy habits to take with her as she grows. And as her mommy – I am so happy to see this quality in her.

more sanity for you!

As much as I love my sweet wonderful babies… I DO need some time alone. I’ve tried waking up early in the morning but it’s not my thing. I don’t feel I get the same quality “alone time” as I do when I stay up late.

I myself still go to bed at midnight (or later) because that’s what my body likes. My fiance also gets home late so we use this time to get alone time together.

I have so much more sanity now because of this.

Not feeling like you have your own space away from your kids is HARD. Bedtime routines that are EARLY help with this tremendously!

our nightly bedtime routine

So what does our bedtime routine look like anyway?

It took us a few years to get here, but we finally have a pretty good groove going. Our “bedtime” routine actually starts before dinner as I am very strategic to make sure they are TIRED when they hit that bed!

4:30PM – ALL screens are turned off for the day (they are proven to impact sleep and I DEFINITELY notice a difference if we don’t do this) and we turn on dance music via our Google Home. The goal here is to get the kids moving so they can tire themselves out before dinner. We also generally chase each other around, play monsters, and try to get some last belly laughs out of them.

(PS: as much as I enjoy our Google Home, I would purchase an Alexa if I had to do it all over again. It can be glitchy and hard to use at times. This Alexa unit is most comparable to the unit we have.)

5:00PM – I start cooking dinner while they continue to play and dance. I generally am dancing around the kitchen right along with them! We then all sit down together to eat (usually) and I switch the music over to the Peaceful Guitar spotify playlist to create calming vibes in the room. I try to avoid any recipes that take too much time cooking as they will get antsy and hungry pretty quickly around this time.

5:45PM – Everyone finishes up eating and I start running a bath for them. They sit and play and giggle and start winding down for bed. At this point they are generally getting pretty calm.

6:15PM – I get them out of the bath and in jammies before we sit down on big sissy’s bed for some stories. Some nights it’s 1 book and others it’s 4 and I go a little past our bedtime. I avoid stories that require too much animating as we need to keep the calm energies going. This bedtime story is our favorite right now and generally gets read every night.

6:30PM – It’s now time to tuck everyone into bed. I turn on the light in little miss’ closet and crack the door and make sure she has Uni (her stuffed unicorn she HAS TO have every night). These help her feel safe now that she sleeps in her own room vs cosleeping in the big bed.

I have them give each other loves before I take the baby and go lay with him. Sometimes I will sing a song or two as well. I scoop up the baby, grab Elmo and his blankees (they usually make their way to the living room after nap time) and we lay down together. I sneak out once he’s fast asleep, this usually takes about 15-30 minutes.

tips for an effective bedtime routine

Now… I want to add a disclaimer and say our routine DID NOT look like that from the start. We took it slow – it took about 2 years to arrive here.

You might be blown away by our routine, and it might be similar to yours but you see a few things you’d like to take inspiration from.

Below are a few extra tips to help you in the process of creating your own bedtime routine for your toddler or preschooler.

focus less on the schedule, more on the routine

As I noted earlier, my preschooler will LOSE HER MIND if we skip her bath. She also is heartbroken if we even suggest skipping the stories to get to bed earlier (this usually only happens if I get way behind schedule).

I have since stopped suggesting we skip certain parts of our routine.

The reason being is a bigger disruption to BOTH KIDS if I change the routine than if I get them to bed an hour later. They are used to things happening in a certain order that is very strategically laid out, and have trouble adjusting if I change it.

But seeing as they are 1 and 4… they could care less if the time changes.

So as you start implementing this yourself, focus on nailing down the ROUTINE – the order in which things occur – rather than stressing yourself out over the TIME things happen and start rushing.

The routine is the most important part.

set some “rules” for bedtime

I think it really helps to have RULES that your kids also are aware of. You’ll notice a few from my own routine and I think they help to make sure things go smoothly.

Our rules are:

  1. Screens OFF by 4:30PM – no exceptions
  2. No rowdy music or roughhousing after dinner
  3. They MUST lay down while I tell stories

By following these rules, I know they will be READY to sleep when it’s time. And yes, sometimes I have to remind them to only play quiet games (especially while taking a bath).

make sure you include a “calm down” period

Honestly the calm down period has been the absolutely GAME CHANGER. You cannot expect kids to go to sleep when they’re all riled up from playing. I let them get some bursts of energy, but then we transition to calming down.

This helps them GET READY to go to sleep. Without this – bedtime is more difficult.

Your calm down period might look different, but make sure you have one!

keep tweaking until you find what works

As I said earlier… you WILL NOT find the perfect routine from the start. You need to take it slow, add things over time, and make tweaks until you find what works.

DO NOT stress yourself to be perfect from day 1. This takes some time and if you haven’t been doing it… you won’t stick with it if you make it too hard on yourself.

final thoughts

I LOVE our bedtime routine – it’s what makes things run so smoothly in the evening in our house. My kids depend on it and they sleep SO GOOD because of it!

I highly suggest having a period where you get energy out using an this Alexa or other speaker to play music. We love this period during the day!

Follow it with a calm down period and don’t forget a good bedtime story like this one!

Just remember to take it slow and focus on the ROUTINE – not the time everything happens. You can do this mama!

Do you have a bedtime routine for toddlers in place in your home? What do you do during your routine? Let me know in the comments below!

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