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Toddlers hate bed, they hate sleep, and even worse, we hate the process, too. What parent doesn’t feel like they has fought a hungry lion and won once their toddler is asleep. And oh, the feeling of freedom.
Bedtime is just another link suffocating neck that can be parenting a toddler. So how can we make bedtime easier?
My first piece of advice is to always remember that bedtime will get easier with age, and that this phase passes. Had to remember when your toddler gets out of bed for the millionth time in 15 minutes, but it’s true.
Having a routine lets you toddler recognize what is coming and come to terms with bedtime. It also allows their brain move from awake and active to ready for rest. A tall order when they have no control over their schedule, brain, or anything else. According to this 2018 study routine not only promotes healthy sleep, but it also promotes “an array of positive developmental outcomes beyond improved sleep, inclusive of language development, literacy, child emotional and behavioral regulation, parent-child attachment, and family functioning, among other outcomes.”
This routine need not be set in stone. It doesn’t have to be a schedule, but having a general timeline of events that happen every single night make life, and sleep, easier for everyone in the family. In our house, an hour before sleep, the kids get a snack, a bath, brush their teeth, use the potty then I read to the little ones until they fall asleep or put on music, hypnosis stories, or another type of audio recording (see below for a list of free resources that I use). Easy and quick.
Sweet Spot Tired
This concept is confusing for a lot of parents. My kid needs to be tired, but not too tired? What does that even mean?
It means that kids who stay up after they become tired become over stimulated. They catch a “second wind,” and it’s pretty much impossible to get them to be still and settle. So once you notice things like puffy eyes, yawning, rubbing their eyes, crankiness, dragging their feet. . . . START BEDTIME ROUTINE. Here is a more complete list of signs of fatigue in babies and toddlers.
They are tired enough to be able to feel the pull of sleep but over stimulation hasn’t settled in yet to make them wiggle. It is a learned skill to notice this in your kids so be on the watch, practice, and do not be afraid to set a hard limit.
The last piece of this puzzle is making sure you child feels safe. This is ultimately the reason they get up a million times during the night. Maybe they are afraid of missing out of fun, but a child that doesn’t feel safe won’t stay in bed.
Through the eons of history, a child being alone in the dark was a dangerous thing, and their instincts remember. According to Anxious Toddlers, two of the top fears of 2-4 year olds are fear of the dark and fear of sleeping alone. So bedtime has 2 major fears that most children experience and their instincts are telling them to run, so they do.
Personally, I lie with my children until they fall asleep. I don’t care what other experts say to do. It’s my personal instinct to stay with them, and it works for my family because they feel secure.
Many parents don’t. I have seen many creative ways of making children feel secure in bed without a TV to distract them. Of course, there is the classic teddy bear friend. Monster-Away spray is a cute thing I have seen parents do. Parents make a label that says “Monster Away” and slap it on an air freshener can then spray the room each night while telling the child it makes monsters run away.
I have had great success in giving my littles some quiet toys and telling them that they don’t have to sleep. They just have to lie in bed and play quietly with their toys. It takes some of the pressure off, and they can relax because they can play instead of lying there thinking of their fears. As they grow older, this can become a problem because some of my kids have stayed up playing quietly half the night!
Personally, I don’t do the monster spray because I don’t like lying to my kids. If you are interested in hearing more about creative ways to make kids feel secure at bed time, please leave me a comment.
YouTube and Audio Stories
I am not ashamed to say that some nights I work while I play an audio story or YouTube video for my kids while they fall asleep. I don’t let them watch a video, of course (unless I am desparate, lol), just the audio, because the video and blue light from the screen can be overstimulating.
I have compiled a short list of the free resources I use for you.
The Little Rabbit who Wants to Fall Asleep: Read by a professional hypnotherapist, this audio reading has put me to sleep with my kids countless times, especially while I am pregnant. The soothing and suggestive story is relaxing and cute.
The Little Elephant that Wants to Fall Asleep: Sequal to The Little Rabbit who Wants to Fall Asleep and is my personal favorite between the two. The author did a great job merging the two stories and the reader’s voice is soothing and calm.
Elaine Martin is an Australian hypnotherapist (I believe) who writes and records her own hypnosis stories aimed at helping kids sleep and more! I absolutely love her stories and have been to known to listen to them even after my kids fall asleep.
Storyline Online: The Screen Actor’s Guild encourages its members to record a reading of their favorite book for both their website and YouTube. Check out Sarah Silverman reading A Tale of Two Beasts or A Bad Case of the Stripes read by Sean Astin. Professional actors really make the story come alive! This channel isn’t designed to make kids fall asleep like the above suggestions are so make a playlist and turn the screen away from the kids’ faces.
Story Time with Miss Becky: Miss Becky reads stories aloud, and you get to see the pictures.
Miss Yumi: She is another of our favorite YouTube readers.
Storytime Anytime: This channel uploads a new audio book everyday so there is always fresh content.
KidsTimeStoryTime: This channel also lets you see the pictures and throws puppets in the mix to keep the kids engaged.
These channels are great because they offer short videos and extremely long, like 12 or 14 hours of music and ambient sound to help your kids fall asleep and stay asleep.
New Horizons Holistic: This channel also writes sleep stories and guided meditations for kids.
321 Relax: This channel offers a large selection of music, ambient noise, and lullabies for people of all ages.
Best Baby Lullabies: This channel is aimed more specifically at kids and has lullabies and ambient noise to help kids sleep.
Mindful Kids: This extensive collection of relaxing music is aimed to help kids sleep, meditate, or do yoga.
Jason Stephenson -- Composes sleep music, guided meditations, and affirmations. I personally love much of his music, and it’s easy to get my kids to listen to it and fall asleep.
Audio Story Websites
StoryNory is hands down my favorite site for audio stories. You can stream them, read the transcripts, and download them all for free. The stories are read by professional actors and include original stories, classic books like The Secret Garden, fairly tales, world myths (not limited to Greek and Norse), and poems and songs. They even hold regular writing contests for kids! The winners get their stories read aloud on the site.
Storyberries: This site has their audio stories arranged by time, too so you browse by that instead of just title or genre.
MeeGenius: This site reads stories aloud for kids and is perfect for bedtime, but it also highlights texts as they are read so beginning readers can follow along with the story!