Typical Toddler Schedule – How to Balance Work and Sleep Schedules
A mom named Jennifer wrote into our site to ask a long but important question about a typical toddler schedule. Like so many parents, she has more than one child’s schedule as well as work and life to balance. She writes:
I’m a huge fan of your book. I used a modification of The Shuffle to get my oldest daughter to finally sleep through the night when she was 1 year old. I went back to your tactics with my second child and she was able to sleep through the night around 9 months old.
Now my issue is with my oldest who’s 4-1/2 years old. She is in that in-between stage of needing a nap (which her preschool makes her take) and then having trouble going to bed at night.
Here’s my main question. I pick up the girls from daycare and arrive home at 5:45 p.m. I try to give them both a snack while I get dinner started. Usually, I try to get the baby, who is 17 months old, upstairs and started on her routine at 6:30 p.m. She’s typically in bed between 7 and 7:15 p.m.
She still uses a pacifier, which is something I’m hoping to break soon, but recently she’s been waking up earlier and earlier. This morning it was 5:30 a.m. I know I need to start her bedtime routine earlier and get her in bed earlier to possibly eliminate her early rising. She needs this especially since she only takes one nap at daycare and it’s from 12 noon to 2 p.m. (sometimes she sleeps ’till 2:25 p.m.). This is something I plan to implement tonight, actually.
I would also like to decrease the struggle with my 4-year-old who’s having trouble falling asleep on her own and who also ends up in our bedroom by early morning only to be woken at 6 a.m. when my husband and I are getting ready.
I think I should start her bedtime routine earlier, too. Maybe 7 p.m. and try to get her into bed by 8 p.m.? But how do you suggest fitting in dinner? My husband tends to work later hours, especially in the summer, and isn’t getting home until 7 p.m.
I just feel like I’ve been struggling lately trying to balance everything at work, sleep schedules at home, family time, etc. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I haven’t found anything in your book for this particular struggle. Thank you.
- This struggle is common!
- 8 helpful steps
- A little sleep coaching goes a long way
A Common Struggle
Thanks, Jennifer. A lot of moms can relate to this. The bewitching hours, which they say are from when you come home from work to bedtime, are so challenging. It is a common struggle to figure out how to fit it all in. Luckily, since questions about a typical toddler schedule are common, there’s quite a bit of advice to help.
8 Steps Toward a Typical Toddler Schedule
1. Decide to dedicate some time to this
First of all, I would suggest you talk with your husband about dedicating about 2 to 3 weeks to focus on improving the children’s sleep.
2. Adjust your work schedule
Is it possible for you to go to work earlier and come home earlier for even just a week?
3. Make meals ahead of time
I would try to make a bunch of dinners and freeze them over the weekend so that when you get home you can pop them in the oven or the microwave. Do something quick so that you can get upstairs sooner.
4. Start on a weekend
Maybe even start on Friday or Saturday when your husband is home in time to help with the bedtime so that you can tag team—or divide and conquer, as I like to say. One person is with the 4-year-old and the other one is with the 17-month-old.
5. Regulate the nap-time
Your 17 month old’s bedtime is pretty early. It’s 7 to 7:15 p.m. which really is not that bad. I think the biggest problem is that she has one nap and it’s from 12 to 2 p.m.
I don’t know if it’s even possible to ask the daycare if they can move her nap a little bit later. The goal is to have a smaller window between wake up from her nap and bedtime. I would ask. Even if they can start it at 12:30 or 1 p.m., that would help a bit. Otherwise, there’s just too big of a wakeful window between her nap and bedtime.
Naps are an important component of toddler sleep.
Read: Nap Training: How to Get Good Naps for Good Nights
6. A cat-nap is OK
If she does doze on the way home I would leave it alone. I would actually hope that she does doze a little in the car so that she can make it to 7 p.m. and not be super overtired. Be open to a two nap day on the weekends if it seems she needs it. Keep the morning nap short, perhaps around 45 minutes so she can still take an afternoon nap.
7. Sleep coach your 4 year-old again
You didn’t say much about your struggles getting your 4 year-old to sleep. But if you can put the toddler to sleep then you or your husband can be with the 4-year-old. I would:
- Revisit The Shuffle with her
- Do a sleep manner chart
- Have a family meeting
That four-year-old needs help sleeping?
Read: Sleep Training a Four-Year-Old — Ask the Sleep Lady
I think it’s important that the 4-year-old knows that the 17-month-old is also going to be sleeping in her bed all night long. At the family meeting let her know that everybody is going to be sleeping in their own beds all night long. Also, review the sleep manner chart every night with her.
8. Address the early rising
In the morning, try to be firm about not getting the toddler out of her crib at 5:30 a.m. either.
Want to know more about Early Rising?
Read: Early Rising in Babies and Toddlers – 10 Tips to Resolve Early Wake-Ups
Just A Little Training Goes A Long Way
It’ll be a tough couple of weeks, but I think that if you can make those switches—try to work on the nap so that your toddler might be able to go to bed a little bit later and be able to sleep longer, and have the 4-year-old going to sleep better—then you won’t have to live on frozen dinners forever!
One Last Tip
Perhaps ask the daycare if they can give your toddler a snack before you pick her up so they don’t need a snack before dinner. That’s another option too.
Hang in there, Jennifer. It does get better.