In our house, a late toddler bedtime is what has always worked best. When the other moms in my mommy group start talking about their kids going to sleep at 7 o’clock, my eyes glaze over.
What that must be like. To be able to get laundry done without a tiny terrorist pulling everything out of the basket for you, do dishes without someone screaming at your feet, to vacuum without a 17-month old insisting he push the vacuum instead.
While I’m a little jealous that some of them have their kids trained to stay in bed with an alarm clock that tells them when it’s okay to get out of bed, only in my wildest dreams would that ever happen. Even though it might make cleaning way easier and give me some “me time,” I have a few reasons to keep our kids’ bedtime right where it is – somewhere around 10 PM every night.
Toddler Bedtime Routine
First, I think it’s important to talk about a bedtime routine when you have kids that go to bed really late.
There’s a lot less time between bedtime and midnight or 2 am when things don’t go according to plan, so it’s way easier for your next day to immediately be in jeopardy when one little partier just isn’t done partying – know what I mean?
First, I believe in putting everyone to bed at the same time. We cosleep, so this is easy for me to say.
I get that if you have multiple kids of multiple ages in all different rooms this is way harder.
For us, it’s like magic that if one kid starts to get cranky and tired, the other two are very close behind.
Our bedtime for our 2 year old and bedtime for our 3 year old is exactly the same as our 4 year old and, usually, the same time we go to bed for the night too.
The secret to getting 3 small kids to bed at the same time, even when they get to sleep with mommy and daddy, is to make the bedtime chores FUN.
Bedtime Routine in Our House
- Use the potty
- Take a bath
- Get diapers on (even the potty-trained toddler – just in case)
- Brush our teeth
- Talk about everything we’re grateful for
- Turn on our oil diffuser (or use some other familiar scent each night at the same time)
By far and away, the simplest thing to add to your bedtime routine is an essential oil diffuser.
I steered very clear of oil diffusing for a long time. I equated it to pyramid schemes and had zero faith that any of it worked.
Then, my BFF introduced me to peppermint oil for my migraines and it was a game changer.
Now, I use the same essential oil each night to get our kids in the mood to go to sleep. I firmly believe this same thing can be accomplished using a candle or even just a very regimented bedtime routine.
Using the same bubble bath each night for example.
We diffuse the same oil each night and it immediately makes our kids settle down and start acting like it’s bedtime.
I grab it on Amazon when I’m running low and move on with life. I also remember to take it with us everywhere we go.
I can’t say enough about what this has done for getting the kids down easily at bedtime. It’s made such a huge impact that I even use it sometimes when they’re being stubborn at naptime.
Every night, I fill our diffuser with a few drops of oil, then we start the bathtime routine.
The best part about diffusing a certain oil when you go to sleep is how much it helps when traveling.
We travel for my husband’s job A LOT. We take our diffuser with us everywhere we go.
When it’s time for bed, I start diffusing their bedtime oil and immediately they start to slow down and get into the rhythm of getting ready for sleep.
Why I Think a Late Toddler Bedtime is Best
Our little ones (ages 4, 2.5, and 1) always get their naps during the day and are still going strong most nights when we decide it’s finally time to go to sleep.
This is sometime as late as 11 pm, but usually closer to 10 or 10:30.
I’ve heard everything from well-meant criticisms about our choice to getting looks that just scream “you’re an irresponsible parent.”
The thing is, my husband works varying hours every week.
Sometimes he’s home at 4:30 in the afternoon and we can cook dinner together, run errands, and actually spend time together. Other nights, especially in the summer when it gets dark out later, we might not see him until 7 pm or a little later.
If my son were on a “traditional” bedtime schedule, he could very well be asleep before my husband even sets foot in the door.
This isn’t okay with either of us.
What Time Should Toddlers Go to Bed?
Should You Sacrifice Family Time?
For me, it’s more important to have dinner together as a family and get to spend a few hours together in the evening as a couple – parenting our child. We get to read bedtime stories together as a family.
I think it’s really important for him to see his mom and dad interacting, even though it makes my daytime schedule a little more hectic.
At the cost of having some time in the evening to myself, I instead regularly get 3 or 4 hours with my husband and kids together when we get the chance to act like a family. We sit down to dinner together, we clean up together, run errands together, and even (gasp! hiss!) watch TV together.
Plus, we bed-share (and yes, we still have sex! That’s the number one question we get asked), so our kids come to bed with us when we’re ready to settle in for the night too.
That’s actually my favorite time. Snuggling up to all of my favorite people and watching them drift off to sleep.
Why pass that up just so my son can have an earlier bedtime?
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the perks in having a baby that goes to sleep at 6:30 or 7 o’clock at night.
I’ve even been emailed studies about appropriate toddler bedtimes from readers who completely disagree with our ways.
The thing is, you’ll never convince me that an earlier bedtime at the cost of family time is what’s best.
What Time Should Kids Go to Bed
I’ve read a ton of varying opinions around this topic.
I think the best advice is to follow your child’s lead.
No, this doesn’t mean letting them stay up until 1 or 2 am just because they can fight sleeping that long.
Instead, look at what time they wake up, what time they start getting cranky or tired later in the day, and trying to make sure they go to sleep around that time.
Have you ever pushed through being tired only to be still unable to fall asleep at 2 am?
Kids are capable of the same thing.
I’ve noticed there’s a small window of time
My Toddler Won’t Go to Bed
In my experience, when a toddler is fighting sleep, it’s usually either due to a change in routine or something in their daily lives.
For example, each time a new baby comes home, our older toddlers want nothing to do with sleep.
If something is completely shaking up their world, it will inevitably spill over into bedtime.
Sometimes, life gets really hectic and we get a little lazy on our bedtime routine or naptimes get shifted around.
This is a recipe for disaster at bedtime.
If you have an older toddler, it might be time to re-examine naptime.
Do they still need 2 naps a day?
Can you drop one nap or move up their only nap to slightly earlier in the day? This has worked for us to make sure bedtime happens peacefully at 10 pm and not closer to midnight.
4 Year Old Won’t Go to Bed
We ran into a little bit of an issue with our oldest son almost a year ago when he was about 3 and a half.
I would have to fight him to take even one short nap during the day, then he would be completely energized and ready to go, even at 10 o’clock at night.
Deep down, I knew the reason was that he didn’t need a nap anymore. The fact that I was still trying to force him to go to sleep at the same time as his younger siblings was making bedtime a nightmare.
Finally, I decided to listen to him and stop insisting he nap.
Quiet time while his siblings napped made sense, but I had absolutely zero hope that he would cooperate.
What ended up working was just maintaining that same consistency and nap routine, but allowing him to do things like build puzzles or look through his books while his siblings napped in the next room.
Now, he even stays in bed with them and either plays ABC Mouse on his tablet or quietly builds magnet tiles on the floor next to the bed while they finish napping.
I’m almost always in the same room as them for a little quiet time of my own.
If you have a 3 or 4 year old who is refusing to go to sleep, it’s almost definitely time to start phasing out naps and start phasing in quiet time.
You should be able to still get the same amount of chores done while your little non-napper is enjoying some alone time of their own.
The Perks of a Late Bedtime for Toddlers
I completely understand that what works for us won’t work for everyone.
There are some families without two parents and some that can’t be together because one parent is busy fighting for our freedom overseas. Do I fault these families for not spending quality time together every night?
We’re just in the position as a family that by having a really late bedtime for our son, we’re able to spend a lot of quality time together every night and we have decided that’s best for our little ones.
At the end of the day, I’m fine making the unpopular choice, and I think you should be too – whatever that is for your family.
We’ve been criticized for bed-sharing and I’ve heard that it will hurt our marriage, the bedtime routine only compounds that.
We were put down as though we weren’t happy with our son when we announced we were trying to get pregnant again when he was less than a year old (we conceived Dumplin’ when our Nugget was just 9 months).
We’ve now added ANOTHER baby to our family, and are pregnant with baby #4.
I was even put down for blogging.
My point is, these choices are, without a doubt, the right ones for us.
Popular? Nope. But we’re happy. I encourage you to sometimes make the “unpopular” choice.
As soon as you have kids, you have opinions coming from all directions about how to raise them and critics come out of the woodwork to critique your parenting.
I say to hell with all of them.
You find a rhythm that works for your family and everything just falls into place.
So go ahead and make the choice that makes people look sideways at each other…and then be loud and proud about it because if you’re doing what’s right for your own family, you’re doing nothing wrong.
Housework with Toddlers
The problem is we wouldn’t have any family time until the weekends, and even then, that can get iffy.
My husband regularly works on Saturdays too. So now we’re down to literally one day a week together as a family. Nothing about that feels right to me.
Okay, so the vacuum runs for a solid half hour while I try to get just one room vacuumed with my son “helping.” The dishes might sit in the sink a little longer than I’d like if I didn’t get to them during his nap.
Related: How to Overcome Parenting Overwhelm
That’s the price we pay so that our kids get to see their mommy and daddy working together as a team to put dinner on the table.
We bathe them together.
They fall asleep between us after playing their little hearts out with both of their parents – every.single.night.
I really don’t think there’s any question about how beneficial that is for our kids to see.
Have you ever been criticized for a parenting decision you made? How did you handle it? Did other’s criticisms make you change your mind? Let me know in the comments!