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Sweet dreams: Five ways to calm your toddler before bed

By Dr Kaylene Henderson|

Ah toddlerhood¡­?

A time in which new skills are learned, new challenges are faced and countless new brain connections are made every single day. A time that is equal parts busy, messy and wondrous.

Understandably, it can be hard for our little ones to settle at the end of such eventful days.?There's just so much going on and so much yet to discover.

READ MORE: How to help your toddler prepare for a new sibling

Toddlers have so much to discover, it can be hard to wind down. (Getty)

Yet sleep is so incredibly important for our toddlers for their health and wellbeing (and let's be honest, for our sanity).?

Did you know young children spend approximately half their lives asleep? Babies and young children have greater requirements for sleep than we sometimes realise.

While there will be natural variation between children, it's helpful to have an idea of these average sleep requirements.

Average sleep requirements for infants and young children:

  • At 0-2 months of age: 12-18 hours per day
  • At 2-12 months of age: 14-15 hours per day
  • At 1-3 years of age: 12-15 hours per day
  • At 3-5 years of age: 11-13 hours per day

So to benefit us all, here are five helpful tips for calming our incredible toddlers before bedtime:

1. Allow enough wind-down time

Just as we'd never expect an adult to be able to abruptly end their busy day and immediately fall asleep, it's equally impossible for our toddlers. We all need time for our bodies and minds to wind down and relax before bedtime, and our little ones are no exception.

The end of the day can be a busy time for families, but allowing an hour or two to slow down will help to ease the transition to bedtime.

READ MORE: 'It's like watching a tornado': How to deal with toddler meltdowns

Toddler bedtime comes with a new set of issues. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

2. ¡­ and that goes for us too

Something I've learned as a parent is that it's impossible for our children to calm down while the grown-ups in their lives are rushing around or on edge.

Our children are like barometers of household tension after all. If we want our children to wind down, we need to make an effort to switch off - from our phones, our work emails and from the many other sources or distraction competing for our attention.

When we make an effort to be more present, we not only help our toddlers to feel calmer, but we're likely to be more patient too (a 'win-win' when it comes to bedtimes).

3. Avoid screens

Screens, especially handheld devices like smartphones and tablets, emit blue light which stops our brains from producing melatonin, our body's natural sleep hormone.

While this isn't a big issue during the day, it's best to avoid screen use for at least 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime so that our toddlers have a better chance of a good night's sleep.

Avoid screen time before bed. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

4. Music or meditation

Instead, try playing slow-paced background music at the end of the day - it can be a wonderful calming tool, quietening our children's minds and helping to relax their muscles.

Choosing a playlist with a slow tempo of around 60 beats per minute can help their breath, brain waves and heart rate to slow down too.

Perhaps you and your toddler could build your 'Wind Down Playlist' together? (Don't worry. 'Baby Shark', with an utterly relaxation-repelling tempo of 115 beats per minute, won't make the list!).

There are also lovely guided meditations developed specifically to help young children to get to sleep at night. Headspace for Kids dedicated section on sleep that is customised to three age groups: five and under, six to eight and nine to 12 - and you can try it for free.

5. Stick to the same routine

When children know what to expect, thanks to the predictability of their nightly routine, they find it easier to relax. As such, 'dinner-bath-story-bed' was the consistent nightly pattern when my kids were younger. There's comfort for children in knowing that despite having to face so much 'newness' each day, the evenings pose no new surprises.

Of course, the story-time element in this routine plays an important role in helping our children to relax. What could be more soothing than sitting in bed, snuggled up to one your favourite people on the planet and relaxing into a bedtime tale. Remember, the goal is to transition our little ones towards sleep, so bedtime stories tend to be the perfect tool, in the perfect place.

(Disclaimer: As many of you will have discovered, the downside to creating such a relaxing evening routine is that there's a high chance you will find yourself passed out from exhaustion in your toddler's bed, joining millions of sleep-deprived parents worldwide¡­ Welcome to the club!)

Dr Kaylene Henderson is a highly trained Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, one of Australia's leading parenting experts and a grateful mother-of-three.

The advice in this article is general in nature. Please always consult a medical professional to obtain advice that is tailored to yours or child's specific condition.

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