The Toddler Bedtime Routine
I’ve been surprised by how difficult the adjustment to having two children is emotionally. I expected to be tired, harried, and any number of other things, but I did not expect to be sad. I’m not talking about the baby blues here, either. While I treasure and love our sweet baby boy just as much as I always have his sister, I find that I’m mourning the loss of all the one-on-one time I used to have with Annabelle. As she has grown up, one of the biggest parenting challenges we’ve had with her has revolved around sleep, so it’s funny that the salve for my growing and aching mama heart would be bedtimes with my girl. Bedtime has become my favorite part of the day with Annabelle, and these days it’s not (just) because I’m so exhausted from the day that I can’t wait for her to be asleep. Mostly, it’s the one time during the day when I can relax and spend time with just Annabelle, and I treasure it. The road to get here was long, and we still encounter bumps along the way, but we have a pretty darn pleasant bedtime routine going at the moment.
Ever since I realized months and months ago that a consistent, earlier bedtime was needed, we’ve been having dinner at a regular time – around six if Annabelle had a good nap, and closer to five if she didn’t sleep during the day. Once we finish eating, Annabelle goes directly to the bath and then brushes her teeth, contemplates pajamas (she’s a bit of a nudist most of the time), and then hops in bed to start winding down. I nurse her first, and recount some of the things we did during the day.
After nursing, we take out our bedtime book basket. For these books I have a few favorites, but rely mostly on the library. Whatever the source, I keep two to four books in the basket depending on length. My criteria are pretty simple: I like for them to be about something bedtime related, to end with a child going to bed, or to simply have a relaxing rhythm or story line. These books only come out at bedtime and I switch them out every couple of weeks. I’m particular enough about the whole thing that I usually read them in a certain order, starting with an engaging story and ending with a peaceful, relaxing one. No matter the books or the order, I find that reading slowly in a near whisper achieves the desired effect most of the time anyhow.
Once we finish reading, Annabelle takes one more trip to the restroom while I darken the bedroom and light a lavender scented candle on the nightstand. She tends to get a bit silly on the bathroom trip and with the way she fights sleep, seems to benefit from this continual dance of letting her do her thing and then providing her with something that calms and invites rest. Walking into a dark room is seldom inviting, but the burning candle definitely makes it so, and of course lavender is a calming scent. Annabelle climbs into bed and we recite a poem/verse. I plan to find others when and if she seems to tire of our current pick, but for now it’s “Goodnight Earth”, which I found via Kelly, here. At the end, Annabelle says, “Goodnight, Earth!” and blows out the candle.
Finally, I turn on a song or a story for her to fall asleep by. We have gone back and forth with music over the past year. At first, it was Celtic Lullaby, but Annabelle never did love that as much as I do, so we moved on to Indigo Dreams bedtime stories. That is still in the rotation and includes several wonderful, relaxing stories. My only complaint is that a couple of minutes of soft music follow each story at such a low volume that you have to strain to hear. Having this break every few minutes seems to get Annabelle’s wheels turning again and actually interfere with her falling asleep sometimes. Recently, I downloaded the “Toddler Sleepy Time” track from Hypnobabies since Annabelle had so enjoyed listening to the birth preparation recordings with me while I was pregnant. She seems to enjoy it, so we’re still playing it, but it definitely is not my style. It walks children through some relaxing visualizations, which is great, but some involve a fairy and her “magical fairy dust,” and other things we didn’t really want to introduce into our Montessori home just yet. It works, though, so there’s that.
I sit with Annabelle for the first couple of minutes of her song or story and then tuck her in and say goodnight. She seems to be much more okay with my leaving when I let her know ahead of time when I’ll go. Of course time is still pretty abstract, so I always let her know that I’ll be leaving at a certain part in the story or the song and that does the trick. As for tucking her in, somehow we started a thing where she asks to be wrapped, “like a burrito” meaning I wrap a blanket fully around her nice and snug. I have two sarongs from Guam life that are perfect for this since they’re thin and wrap easily. When the sarong can’t be located, I go with the standby and tuck her “like a taco,” by tucking the duvet under her on either side.
The whole thing sounds awfully involved, but when a child who used to take two hours or more to fall asleep is out within half an hour most nights, it’s worth it. She’s so much happier when she’s rested! Plus I get to hang out with her through the whole thing, which is pretty sweet.