How to establish a solid bedtime routine for a toddler

I’ll admit when my daughter was an infant, I didn’t know the first clue about establishing a bedtime routine for her. When one of my friends asked me about my daughter’s bedtime routine, I didn’t even have an answer. She falls asleep when she falls asleep? Literally, that’s how we were functioning at the time. This article is about how to establish a bedtime routine for a toddler.

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Now that my daughter is a toddler, we do have a solid bedtime routine and it works wonderfully on most nights. When big changes happen in my toddler’s life, we adjust the routine to suit the change.

Generally, toddlers are creatures of habit. They absolutely love routines even if they don’t outwardly show it. For their expanding minds, a solid, consistent routine can provide them with a sense of security, safety, and a little bit of control in knowing what to expect. So, here’s how to establish a bedtime routine for a toddler.

Bedtime routine for toddler

I found that once my daughter had a solid, established bedtime routine, her quality of sleep was so much better. Also, a consistent routine helps with the transition to bedtime. Once my daughter hears the words ‘nap’ or ‘bedtime,’ she starts to get cranky or protest with ‘no!’ Once we start the routine, she calms down significantly. 

Choose a bedtime

Choosing a bedtime is helpful for toddlers and parents alike. Our toddler’s bedtime is 8:00 p.m. When we were both working full-time outside of the home, her bedtime was 7:00 p.m. A bedtime should fit into an overall family schedule and should be adjusted when necessary.

I would say that the entire bedtime routine takes approximately thirty minutes or so depending on bath time, how much you read, and your toddler’s mood. If your toddler is fighting bedtime, it might take a little longer to quell a tantrum.

Bath time as part of a bedtime routine for toddler

Who doesn’t love a warm bath before bedtime? Similar to adults, a warm bath can help a toddler reduce stress, relax muscles, and wind down for the day. This helps significantly with getting a good night of sleep. 

We used to give our toddler a bath every night until her skin started to dry out a little. It doesn’t help that we have very hard water. So, we now give her a bath every two to three days.

Brushing teeth

Brushing teeth is definitely part of establishing a nightly routine for a toddler. Our daughter’s pediatric dentist told us we should start brushing regularly as soon as teeth erupt, which is as early as 4 months.

I’ve tried so many ways to make teeth brushing easier for my daughter but she does not enjoy it at all. We’ve tried brushing while she’s happy in the bathtub, letting her brush her own teeth, telling her that Elmo wants her to brush her teeth, singing, and various positions to hold her while brushing. It’s just one of those necessary things we have to do.

Reading books

Our nightly routine involves cozying up in the rocking chair together and reading books. We’ll read three to four books before bed and I always let her know when it’s the last one. Some of her favorites are Baby Feminists and Dear Zoo.

Check out these toddler book options on Amazon.

Sleep sack or wearable blanket

My daughter has been in a sleep sack since she was a young infant. As she got older, she began to associate the sleepsack with bedtime. Now, whenever she puts it on, she knows that it’s part of the routine to go to sleep.

I love the sleep sack over a regular blanket, even for a 20-month-old toddler. She doesn’t try to get out of it yet and it keeps her warm at night. Currently, we use one made of fleece, so it’s perfect for the winter.

Ambiance as part of a bedtime routine for toddler

how to establish a bedtime routine for toddler

I didn’t realize how important ambiance was for a toddler’s routine until we went away and slept at a hotel for a couple of nights. My toddler was not happy with her new surroundings at all.

A night light is a must for us. We have a really cute star globe night light from Target that stays on 24/7. It doesn’t give off too much light to interrupt sleep but it’s just enough to comfort her.

Check out these night lights on Amazon (click images). The Hatch night light also has sleep music.

Lullaby music is also a must. Amazon Music has a free lullaby and sleep station that we use for bedtime, so we keep an Echo Dot in my daughter’s nursery for this. The music provides nice background noise and shuts off automatically after a couple of hours.

What about naps?

We use a shortened version of the bedtime routine for naps. There’s not going to be a bath but we still read, put on music, and the night light. I also brush her teeth before she naps to stick to that bedtime routine.

Recently, my daughter was having trouble sleeping at naptime. After I put her in the crib, she would not go to sleep at all and would just play. I found that putting on her sleep sack for a nap helps so much, so we now use the sleep sack for naps too.

What about staying out of town?

Going out of town and sleeping in a new place has always been tough for my toddler. I have found some workaround alternatives to her normal bedtime routine but sleeping in her crib provides the most comfort for her.

When we sleep at a hotel, instead of bringing along her night light, which is a 10-inch globe, I leave the bathroom light on and the bathroom door slightly ajar to mimic a night light. When we go camping, I usually sing lullabies to her until she falls asleep.

Final thoughts on how to establish a bedtime routine for a toddler

Sleep is so important for toddlers. Once you establish a solid bedtime routine for your toddler, the transition to sleep becomes so much easier and predictable. I hope this article gives you some tips and inspiration on how to establish a bedtime routine for your toddler.

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