The 5 Phases Of A Toddler's Chaotic Bedtime Routine

by Life as a Rambling Redhead
Originally Published: 
toddler bedtime routine


Parents love it because they know that sweet parental freedom comes after the kiddos are asleep. But holy crap, the whole “bedtime routine” can be quite the workout.

Who needs to do cardio when you have a toddler who has a strenuous bedtime routine? It’s not always easy, and it definitely doesn’t always run smoothly.

If you have yet to experience putting a toddler to bed, or just want to compare notes on what you’re doing with your own child, then you may find this “Five Phases of a Toddler’s Bedtime Routine” guide helpful.

Disclaimer: Individual experiences may vary depending on the child.

Phase 1: Dinnertime

In our house, dinnertime kicks off the evening’s festivities.

It’s at this time when everyone under the age of 3 decides that they hate their lives and want to cry for no reason (sometimes, people under the age of 40 feel this way as well). In this phase of the nighttime routine, you just need to try to navigate through the meal with as much grace as possible. You negotiate with your toddler or demand your toddler (whichever is more your style) eat the food you just spent 30 minutes to an hour preparing.

Most of the time, you will feel like an under-trained lawyer, trying to negotiate something as important as someone’s freedom, when in reality all you are fighting for is the consumption of two pieces of now cold chicken and one lick of a green bean.

Just lick the vegetable. I’ll take a lick at this point. In fact, just touch it.

Stay strong, breathe, and know that a toddler will never starve himself (this is what I have been told on several occasions).

Phase 2: Bath Time

My toddler hates bath time. At least, he thinks he does, and then he doesn’t hate it. Your toddler may be the same way.

There will be a very good chance that the toddler will protest the entire way to the bathroom, and then once they are physically in the bathtub, it’s so much fun! Then when it’s time to wash their hair, they will instantly revert back to hating you and life altogether. After their hair has been cleansed of banana bits and who knows what else, all is right with the world, and they will suddenly love you and bath time once again.

It’s an intense roller coaster of emotions. Don’t let it beat you down, the toddler doesn’t even know what is going on inside of their own miniature brain. I can assure you that everyone in that bathroom is confused.

At some point, the toddler must get out because he can’t sleep in a bubble bath. But they won’t want to get out. In fact, the only thing they want to do is stay in the bath that they protested in the beginning. Now is the part where you must pull their slippery, wiggly body out of the tub while they most likely begin to force fake-cry again.

Applying lotion to an upset toddler is nothing like the peaceful Johnson & Johnson commercials. Let’s just leave it at that.

Phase 3: ‘Milk & Mickey’ Calm Time

In our house, this is when my toddler drinks his glass of milk while watching 15 minutes of his favorite show, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. It calms him down, which makes putting him to bed much easier in theory—turning off the TV is another battle in itself.

I highly recommend finding something that calms your baby beast and implementing this into your nightly routine.

Phase 4: Brushing of the Teeth Time

When you begin brushing the toddler’s teeth, they will most likely hate it. They may push the brush away, clamp their mouth shut, repetitively turn on and off the nearby light switch, smear their hands across the mirror, force fake laughs (or cries) resulting in toothpaste being spit onto your face, and my personal favorite, the bite down on the toothbrush every 1.7 seconds game. All of these things are normal and to be expected.

After you have brushed what you hope to be at least 95 percent of the tot’s teeth, they will probably want to try it solo, “My do it!” Once you take the toothbrush away, chances are pretty high that they will become angry again. It’s just a vicious, minty, sticky cycle.

I highly recommend assigning this phase to your significant other. That’s what I do. Retreat!

Phase 5: Book Time

Phase 5 is best depicted by using an actual conversation, such as the one below:

Toddler: Books! Books!

Mother: “Okay, two books.”

Toddler: No, fibe books!

Mother: No, two books. Mama said two books.

Toddler: Fibe! Fibe! Fibe! Fibe! Fibe books!

Mother: We will do three books because these are really short. Three.

Toddler: Dees books. Trucks, Bad Kitty, and Red Twuck.

Mother: We’ve read these same three books every night for the past six nights. Let’s pick different books.

Toddler: Noooooooooo! Red twuck, Mommmmmy! Prwease!

Mother: Red truck is a tow truck, a work truck, not a show truck…

(Toddler begs for more; mom stays strong and declines more book readings. Lights go out. Toddler begins somersaulting in bed.)

Mommy: Stop moving! Lie down! It is night-night time!

(Toddler stops somersaulting, straightens out his body, and flails his arms as if to do half-bodied snow angels.)

Mommy: Stop! Settle down!

(Toddler remains still but begins to snort repetitively like a pig. He then starts choking due to said pig impressions.)

Mommy: Stop making sounds, right now! Let’s say prayers. Dear Lord, we are so thankful for…

Toddler: No, no, no, no, Mommy! Prwease stop dat now.

Mommy: I’m praying. Close your eyes. We are thankful for our family and our safe home…


Mommy Who’s Given Up: Amen. Goodnight.

Your story time may look something like this and that’s completely normal. Don’t feel like something is wrong with your child. He’s not broken, just young and really, really, really loves books.

As you start to leave the room, expect your toddler to say something super sweet like, “I lub you, Mommy” or “You so pwetty, Mommy.” When this happens, your heart will instantly melt, you’ll probably walk back to your baby terror, kiss their head, and probably contemplate snuggling with them for a few more minutes because you just can’t get enough of them and their craziness. I myself am guilty of stealing some last-minute cuddles.

Just know, if you do choose to snuggle, you run the risk of having to start the exit process all over again—completely your choice, just wanted to be upfront.

Good luck, parents. Just know, you’re not alone. My tired soul is with you from 7 to 9 p.m.

Oh look, it’s almost bedtime!

Thank the Lord.

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