Use a nightly checklist to get a happy, sleeping child.

Evening Routine Checklist for Toddlers

by Shara JJ Cooper

Bedtime with small children can be a nightmare for parents. Your kids will fight and scream before bed and at the end of the day, it's the last thing you want to deal with. If you establish a regular evening routine while your children are young, you can curb the temper tantrums and coax them into bed on time. That doesn't mean they won't have bad days, but it lets them know what to expect, which can be soothing.

1. Dinner

Start your routine with dinner. Feed your toddler a healthy, well-balanced meal with healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates. Make it interesting so your children will want to participate and enjoy their meal. To perk up daily dinners, try a theme night, like Mexican or Greek. We know it's hard to pull the family together for meals, but do your best to make family dinners a habit. According to healthychildren.org, toddlers that eat with their families are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables over junk food or fast food. The evening isn't a time for battling a sugar high, so serve yogurt and fruit for dessert instead of refined sugar.

2. Bath

Give your toddler a warm bath before bed. Let him play and relax in the water. The water will soothe him and get him ready for sleep. Allow him to play in the water with his siblings, if he has any, or play with bath toys. Play with him in the water and help him enjoy the experience. Try jazzing things up by introducing new elements to the water like bubble bath, glow sticks or colored water. Take your time giving him a bath. When you're done, dry him off, brush his teeth and hair, and put him in cozy pajamas, always in the same order. Many parents find a massage with lotion helps settle toddlers as well.

3. Storytime

Read to your toddler as much as possible throughout the day, but always read to him before bed. This is your special time to cuddle and use your imaginations. When toddlers get tired, they need their parents more and appreciate the warmth of your body and the soothing motions of a rocking chair. Choose two or three stories for him to read. Keep things interesting by reading familiar books and adding a new book. New books grab his attention and keep him interested, while familiar books are like an old friend.

4. Pray/Reflection

If your family is religious, you can pray with your child at bedtime. Talk to him about your family's beliefs and why you pray. Let him participate with you. If you are not religious, you can take this time to discuss your day and what you are going to do the following day. You can also sit and meditate quietly or listen to music. Toddlers won't full grasp this concept, but they will enjoy the challenge of sitting still or copying their parents.

5. Tips

Don't worry if your routine isn't exact every night. Children are emotional and their moods vary. Any change in their life can upset their bedtime routine, so be consistent but flexible with your approach. Start your bedtime routine early enough that your toddler can get enough sleep. According to Kidshealth.org, toddlers need 10 to 13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. So if your toddler has two, one-hour naps during the day, aim for 11 hours of sleep at night. Don't include loud music, video games or TV in your routine. These are too stimulating and take a long time for toddlers to process what they have seen.

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