Consulting an Expert: Giving toddlers a bedtime routine

Special Reports

When it's time for bed, here are some tips for a good night's sleep

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — “There’s this connotation that if you have kids, you’re never going to sleep. And I don’t think that’s true,” said Lauren Olsen.

Pediatric Sleep Consultant Lauren Olsen. (KOIN)

For homes ruled by chaos and unbridled toddler energy, the pediatric sleep consultant has a few tips on how to get young children on a regular sleeping schedule. Once this fundamental routine is established, parents will sleep better, and, according to Olsen, children’s temperments will be easier during the day, “which makes parenting overall easier.”

Getting ready for bed

For the little ones, bedtime is much more than simply hopping into bed with their favorite blanket. A good night’s sleep is a process.

“My favorite thing to do with toddlers is a 60-minute Before Bedtime Routine. So, if your, let’s say, ideal bedtime is 8 p.m., you’re going to start your bedtime at 7, and those first 30 minutes are going to be bath and then a little bit of crazy play,” said Olsen. After the first 30 minutes have gone by, the second half of the bedtime routine becomes calmer. She suggests dimming the lights in the home.

Kids will try to test where the boundaries are in their nighttime schedule. For folks who work, this can be an easy test to cave to in the name of spending more time together.

“Can I get a drink of water? Can I get one more hug? They’re going to see how far they can go to delay the inevitable, which is bedtime,” said Olsen.

She said any sort of “asks” parents hear multiple times, like going to the bathroom or reading one more story, should be built into the bedtime routine.

“Sleep all night for Mom” (KOIN)

Sleep environment

The setup of the child’s room is also important when it comes to bedtime. Olsen suggests bolting the furniture to the walls and taking the toys out of the bedroom when it’s nighttime.

“Because once they’ve got free rein to have the room, if they’re not tired, they’re going to get up and play,” explained Olsen. “So I like to do things, like, maybe some books in the room or just some really quiet things that they can do if they’re to wake up in the night or they’re not tired yet.”

Blackout curtains can be helpful for parents establishing a consistent sleep schedule with their children since they regulate variables like the extra hours of light in the summertime. The darkness also helps for mid-day naps.

Sleep Timer Clock (KOIN)

“Also, a really big thing is the temperature,” said Olsen. “You want the temperature to be about 70 to 72 degrees and then a nightlight that also doubles as a white noise machine.”

She suggested a device called a sleep training clock for toddlers, for example, one by Hatch. The clock has a light that changes colors from the time you set it, which lets the child know when it’s okay to come out of their room. When introducing the training clock, Olsen advises that parents roleplay with their toddlers during the day.

“Practice what you want your children to do when it does change colors,” said Olsen.

Toys are the trick

For kids who won’t stay in their own beds all night, Olsen said—in this case—toys are the trick. Grab any basket or box and fill it with toys. Make it a fun trip to the Dollar Store or Target and let your child pick out a bunch of small prizes that will go in the special basket for when they have a good night of sleep.

“If they follow their sleep manners, if they stayed in bed all night, you are Disney princess, Christmas morning, Prize Basket Lady,” explained Olsen.

Children’s toys (KOIN)

The final piece of advice? Olsen said that any time the household routine or environment changes, expect two to three nights of “a little bit of craziness” before things settle back down again.

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