Mindfulness | Parenting

5 Healthy Sleep Habits for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Yoga Inspired Sleep Tips for Your Little Yogi

By Jessica Petrus Aird, contributing writer and Pretzel Kids teacher

If you have a toddler or preschooler at home, chances are that you’ll inevitably have some sleep challenges. 

Teething, potty training, moving from a crib to a bed, changing daycare providers, attending preschool, or even gaining a new sibling are some of the most common transitions your little one may experience. With such massive changes, along comes stress. And, regardless of your child’s age, stress can negatively impact sleep. 

healthy sleep habits

It’s Important to Teach Your Child Healthy Sleep Habits

While reflecting on your child’s sleep history might trigger memories of the dreaded four-month sleep regression, here’s the good news: Most sleep issues for children under three are behavioral in nature. This means that you can teach them how to develop positive sleep routines. In fact, the strategies most frequently advised by sleep professionals are simple in nature. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that enforcing these strategies is easy! 

In addition to a very solid plan, you may need the combination of the right mindset and solid, non-judgmental support from someone who can also hold you accountable to a plan. For this reason, you may want to consider turning to a sleep consultant. This may help you create healthy sleep habits for you and your toddler.

As a certified pediatric sleep consultant, I work with many families who come to me exhausted, frustrated, and baffled about their child’s sleep patterns. They’ve tried nationally-recognized sleep training strategies like the Ferber Method (or its more extreme cousin known as “Full Extinction”, aka “Cry It Out”) but gave up after a few days because of the struggle. Or maybe it’s a family who feels very strongly against CIO methods and just wants their child to sleep in their own space instead of in their room every night. Whatever the case, toddler and preschooler struggles are very much unique to the individual child. As I always tell parents “every child is truly their own little unique puzzle!” 

Options to Help a Child Struggling with Sleep

If your child is struggling with sleep, there are some ways to help! 

First of all, it is always a good idea to start with your pediatrician. While there is normal variation in children’s sleep patterns, underlying medical reasons can also play a role. 

Secondly, even though there is rarely an easy cure-all for restoring or creating perfect sleep, we know that bedtime routines have numerous benefits for young children, including encouraging earlier bedtimes, reduced nighttime wakings, and increased sleep duration. Routines are good for all of us at every age (even newborn babies enjoy being on a loose eat-play-sleep routine!) and help our minds and bodies properly cued for sleep.  

Below is a list of my five top sleep tips for toddlers and preschoolers. Hopefully they can help you establish a preschool bedtime routine!

1. Make Kids Yoga a Daily Habit

Yoga for toddlers and preschoolers has numerous benefits; so much so, that it is popping up all over the country in daycares, preschools, and after-school preschool yoga classes. 

But yoga also has a perfect place at home, right at the start of an evening wind-down routine!

For example, you can do some fun tactical play after dinner, but before bedtime, try doing some YOGA with your toddlers! Star, moon, butterfly, and seed pose are four favorite kids yoga poses that help children wind down their day and connect with this special time of night. For more inspiration, you can even try reading some books about yoga and mindfulness to your kiddos! 

2. Cue the Soft Lighting 

We all know parenting today isn’t the same as it was 30 years ago thanks to the era of constant screens. Even though it isn’t realistic for most children and teens to completely remove themselves from devices, we can help their minds and body to calm down by releasing melatonin, our natural sleep-aid. How? Aim to turn off screens and bright lights at least one hour before bedtime. 

3. Keep the Bedtime Routine Simple 

Having a simple and consistent bedtime routine every night is an excellent way for your little one to wind down at night. Try to keep it between 30-45 minutes. A good template is as follows: bathe, use the potty, brush your teeth, put on PJs, read a book or two, and off to bed!

4. Create a Book Nook 

Help your little one train their mind to associate their bed solely with sleep. Rather than read books in the bed, have a fun and cozy place *outside* of the bed to read. A papasin or beanbag chair, or a calming tent with pillows and blankets encourage that snuggly feeling and can be the perfect transition spot before sleep. 

No need to make it expensive or fancy. You can find many of these items in your local Buy Nothing groups and/or use extra pillows and blankets around the house. Have your child help create the magical calming space. And, here are some great books on mindfulness for kids to bring into that calming space! 

5. Practice Calm Breathing

To help little ones calm down once laying in their bed, I love teaching families how to play the breathing game “Magic Carpet Ride.” With their heads on their pillows, eyes closed, and hands on their belly, guide your child through the visualization that they are on a magic carpet ride that flies through the sky…and goes wherever you want! Keep the destinations familiar and kid-friendly: a favorite playground, a review of your day’s activities, or a favorite family vacation are great choices. Have them practice deep belly breathing as they enjoy “flying”. 

Want some other calming breathing exercises for kids? Check out this mini-course on easy breathing and mindfulness techniques for children! 

Are You Ready to Start Your Healthy Sleep Habits?

healthy sleep habits

It’s important to remember that while children are incredibly quick learners, they can also be slow and resistant to change their bedtime routines. 

So, talk often with your child about sleep during the day, and even let them come up with some of their own ideas for bedtime! Even just creating emotional space for them to share their bedtime fears and routine ideas is a simple yet powerful way to guide them towards sleep

Ultimately, the more fun and relaxing bedtime becomes, the easier it’ll be for the kiddos – and you – to drift off to sleep! 

About Jessica

With a passion for family wellness, Jessica Petrus Aird is a triple-certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Postpartum Doula, and Pretzel Kids® Yoga teacher. She owns Burgeoning Bud Postpartum Doula And Pediatric Sleep Consulting where she helps families eat, sleep, and be well in their postpartum and beyond. She supports families virtually anywhere in the world as a Sleep Consultant (ages 0-5) by offering customized sleep plans and continuous daily support for up to three weeks afterwards. She is also a mother to three children: Will (5), June (3), and Oscar (1). She lives with her family in the Boston area, where they can regularly be found checking out a local farm, jumping on the trampoline in the backyard, and sampling delicious pastries from local bakeries. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook. Need sleep support?  Book your FREE 15 minute Discovery Call with Jessica here.

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