Tucking in her favorite animal might help your toddler accept bedtime.

How to Teach a Toddler About Bedtime

by Molly Thompson

As toddlers develop, they become more aware of what's happening around them. Oh, but how they don't like to be taken away from the action -- they might miss something! Escape the battle of wills and teach your toddler about bedtime by establishing a comforting, familiar bedtime routine, and practice the bedtime behavior you want him to emulate. You might also want to "play" bedtime with dolls or stuffed animals, or read stories about little children or friendly creatures going to bed.

Speak in short, simple sentences about why everybody needs to sleep at bedtime. Tell her that her siblings go to sleep at bedtime, the dog takes naps and even mommies and daddies have to go to bed. Tell her that people and animals need to sleep, so they can feel good to do the things they enjoy the next day, so their bodies can be strong and grow, and so they don't get sick. Not too tough, right? Sure, sometimes she might not want to go to bed, but she'll have to. It's not necessary to tell her that you also need her to go to bed, so that you can get things done or have a few minutes of your "me" time.

Decide what approach you want to take. Pick something between plopping him in his crib and leaving the room for the night or staying with him every second until he collapses from exhaustion. Make sure you and your spouse are consistent in how you handle bedtime. Instruct babysitters to follow the routine, as well. According to MayoClinic.com, providing a consistent routine every night -- and not giving in to your toddler's efforts to derail your plan -- is your best path to success.

Establish a soothing, familiar bedtime routine. Talk your child through it when you're first introducing it, so that she understands why you're doing each step and what she can expect. Tell her that bedtime is different from playtime or nap time. At bedtime, she'll put on her jammies and brush her teeth. And even though you might read lots of stories together during the day -- at bedtime, you only read one. If you give her a last sip of water or say your prayers, include those activities in your toddler's bedtime routine, too.

Explain to your child that just because he has to go to bed alone -- also tell him that you, other family members or a babysitter are still around and will check on him periodically to make sure he's doing okay. If your toddler is uncomfortable being on his own, tell him you'll let him have a nightlight in his room. Let him choose a favorite blankie or soft toy to take to bed. For toddlers afraid of monsters in their room, make a simple "Monster Spray" -- water in a plastic spray bottle -- and explain that if you spray this once or twice in his room, monsters will stay away.

Read familiar books about bedtimes, such as "Goodnight, Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown or similar bedtime books, such as books about Elmo or other Sesame Street characters or the Berenstain Bears. Yes, you'll probably have to read them over and over again -- but she'll eventually get the message that she's not the only one who has to go to bed at night. All the familiar objects in her room, her favorite TV characters -- and even the moon -- have to go to bed.

Accommodate your toddler's growing sense of independence and let him "be the boss of" one of his stuffed animal's bedtime routines. He can learn the steps in his own bedtime routine by "teaching" these steps to his teddy bear. He can go through these steps with him each evening before he has to go to bed. Make this part of the child's routine, if it helps him feel more in control of his environment and provides him a sense of comfort.

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

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