If you find yourself in a sleep regression, this post is going to give you ideas for calming activies for toddlers before bed. Guiding your toddler through such calming activities can eloquently direct a busy mind and body to a state of relaxion that makes it easier to go to sleep.
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As a parent to a young child, I heard about sleep regressions. When each new phase hit I mentally prepared myself for the pain lack of sleep brings, but I can honestly say it wasn’t that bad.
That was until Toddlerhood.
I am a mom to a busy boy and bedtime used to be one of the most agonizing times of the day. It was a complete fight to get my son to bed. I often found myself going back to his room to settle him for 1-2 hours past his bedtime.
This was no good for me because night time is a sacred time where I recharge, spend time with my husband, do self-development, or read a good book! Needlesstosay, this whole 2 year old sleep regression was cutting into “me time.”
I began to search for ways to make the process of going to bed more fun for my son, yet still align with the idea that it’s time to calm down and prepare for sleep.
Calming Activities for Toddlers Before Bed
Just like adults, children sometimes need help relaxing at night. There is a lot you can do to help your child to fell calm and these suggestions will likely help you as well.
1. Turn off electronics an hour before bed (at least)
With almost 40% of children owning their own cell phone by 5th grade, there is no denying that this generation of children have access to a TON of technology. Studies show that using technology near bedtime such as TV, tablets, and cellphones is associated with 40 minutes to an hour of less sleep each night. (source)
I know it is super tempting to snuggle up with your kids and watch a movie right before bed, but it could be contributing to difficulty going to sleep. I’m not suggesting to never enjoy a movie night together, but it may be best to limit it when you are in a sleep regression age (18 & 24 months are typical)
In our home, we allow our son to watch about an hour of TV a day. I try to schedule his TV time when I am making dinner. If you start the habit of no electronics after dinner while the kids are young, you will help them navigate this modern tech world much better as they grow.
After Dinner Entertainment Ideas
Family bike ride
Going for a scenic drive
Go for a nature walk
Throw a ball in the backyard
Fish at a neighborhood pond
Draw with chalk
Visit a friend
Build a fort
Play dress up
Dance to music
Practice fishing if you don’t have a pond
Play with bubbles
Stargaze through telescopes
Talk around a campfire
2. Stop rushing through bathtime
After you spent a few years giving nightly baths, it is super tempting to rush toddlers through bathtime so you can get to the good part. Ya know, the part where you get to “clock out” from keeping a small person alive for a few hours!
The thing is, any time you rush a toddler, it is bound to backfire. I discovered that any time I allow my son to play in the bath freely, the rest of the bedtime process goes so much smoother and I ultimately regain more of my night. It’s like he gets that last bit of play out of his system when he doesn’t feel rushed by me.
One way to make this easier is to grab a book or some type of hand-held activity you have been meaning to do, like balancing a checkbook for example. Does anyone still do that? Set yourself up so you can get something productive while they play in the bath.
3. Add Magnesium Flakes to the bath
Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays a major role in regulating the nervous system to get optimal sleep. (source)
I love adding magnesium flakes to bathwater because they absorb well through the skin and can give the body a little boost in magnesium before bed.
Magnesium is also super relaxing to the musculoskeletal system so it can help calm your toddler’s body before bed.
4. Give a gentle massage
If you find your toddler doesn’t want to lay down and get a massage, you can try having them sit and play with a toy or practice on a stuffed animal. Your touch is going to soothe your toddler and make them feel safe even if it is short-lived.
5. Diffuse Lavender essential Oil
I don’t always remember to set up the diffuser ahead of time, but I find this little step to be quite helpful right before books so it has time to work on your toddler while you snuggle in bed.
The soothing scent will help them get drowsy as they listen to the sound of your voice.
5. Practice Bedtime Yoga
Bedtime yoga is a great calming bedtime activity for an active child because it allows them to move their body through a series of steps to release energy but isn’t overstimulating to wind them up further. Most little kids love to follow directions and move their body. We use a children’s goodnight yoga book and follow along with the pictures together a few nights a week.
6. Use a white noise machine
Some kids are very sensitive to noise. Any little sound can disrupt the process of falling to sleep. This was absolutely the case for our son. We found some nights putting him to bed was a breeze but 30 minutes later while cleaning up dinner he was calling out for us. I started using a loud fan to drown out the noise from the house so he could soley focus on his own space and not worry about what is happening elsewhere. If you don’t have a fan then a white noise machine is a good investment.
7. Read books that teach about nighttime
One of the most frustrating parts of childhood for me was to be told what to do without an explanation. I think adults often underestimate kids. They are so much more aware of things than we realize. It is our job as parents to teach them about nighttime and what happens during this time verses during the day.
I love using books to teach life lessons to my son. I’ve explained to him how most people sleep at night but sometimes people stay awake for various reasons (like I did when I used to work nightshift in the hospital). It is important to not skip over the step of teaching and explaining the way life works, even if it is the most basic concept.
This our favorite interactive night time book.
8. Lay in bed together and have a chat
As toddlers become more aware that the world goes on while they sleep, they may have more trouble letting go. They don’t want to miss a thing.
I know for me, I love having “pillow talk” with my husband each night before we go to sleep, although I am pretty sure he hates it! It helps me wind down.
If you can spare a few minutes, talk to your toddler to help them wind down. Toddlers crave our attention and even though you still need to have firm boundaries, it is ok to make bedtime special by giving them some pillow talk too!
9. Sing a special song
When our son was an infant, we started a bedtime routine right away that included a song. His dad has a special song that he sings when he puts him to bed. I have a song that I sing. Later on, these songs were coined “the mommy song” and “the daddy song” by our son. We continue to sing him the same songs every night even when he is resisting sleep.
There are times when he interupts us multiple times while we are singing. I always try to get through the whole song either way. Sometimes it’s at the end of the song that he seems the most relaxed.
Every single parent goes through the toddler sleep regression where their once perfect sleeper starts to have a hard time falling or staying asleep.
As frustrating as it can be, stay consistent with your routine and put your child to bed on time. It is completely reasonable to add some of these calming activities to your night and for the process to take longer than usual.
That being said, no one wants to spend 2 hours every night focusing on getting kids to sleep. If you have been at this forever, give yourself a break! Let them stay up late to watch movies with you. Let them catch fireflies at night past bedtime.
Life is fluid and I hope these suggestions help you. But don’t be afraid to break the rules every once in a while. I promise your kids will be ok if they don’t get to bed on time a few nights in a row!
What are your favorite night-time activities to do with your kids? Leave me a comment!