You’ve got a problem on your hands: come bedtime, your child plays instead of sleeps. Here are tips on getting a toddler to sleep instead of play.
My son knew it was time for bed. I went through our bedtime routine of taking a bath and reading four books. Except once he was tucked in bed, he wouldn’t sleep.
He wasn’t crying—in fact, he was playing, talking, and once in a while, sitting up or even standing in bed. I’d already reminded him a few times it’s time to sleep, but he wouldn’t listen. The worst part? He shares a room with his brothers and was keeping them awake as well.
Granted, he wasn’t disobeying on purpose or throwing a tantrum. He just plays instead of sleeps.
Tips on getting a toddler to sleep instead of play
As you can imagine, this isn’t the easiest experience. Thankfully I learned a few tips to get my kids to sleep. I hope they work for you, too!
Make sure your child is awake long enough in the day.
One of the biggest reasons your child plays instead of sleeps is she’s not tired. I can’t imagine falling asleep at 6pm because that would be too early for me. Adjust your child’s schedule to add more awake time to her day. For instance:
- Move her last (or only) nap earlier.
- Wake her up from her last nap once it reaches a certain time.
- Push bedtime back later so she’s not sleeping too early.
- Wake her up earlier in the morning.
Keep things subdued before bedtime.
When I realized my toddler plays instead of sleeps at bedtime, I changed the environment. He and his brothers would play chase around the house. Bath time included plenty of laughs and splashing around. Even putting on pajamas and reading were lively events in our household.
I decided to keep things subdued. I didn’t encourage rigorous play at bath time and kept the lights dim when putting on pajamas. And I even massaged them with lotion, and read books in a calm, almost whisper-like voice.
It’d be pretty hard to switch from wild action to restful calm, but that’s what was happening with my kids. By keeping things quiet and peaceful, we set the tone for sleep, not play.
Keep your child’s room dark and minimal.
Nothing’s worse than remembering you’d forgotten the fire truck in the kids’ room. You know, the one that blares a siren sound out of nowhere. Keeping your child’s room dark and calm makes it conducive for sleep. Your kids will also be less tempted to get out of bed to play.
Before you tuck your child in for the night, remove any loud toys from the room. Tidy the room so cars aren’t strewn all over the floor. Store toys in boxes and shelves, and keep can’t-resist-the-temptation toys out of the room.
Check in every few minutes.
Let’s say you tried all that. You made sure she’s awake long enough. You kept her room clear of tempting toys and created a calm, peaceful routine conducive for sleep.
Except she still plays instead of sleeps. Or sings, talks, you name it. What do you do then?
Check in every few minutes. First, check in at five minutes. Make sure all is okay, and give her a quick reminder that it’s time for sleep. Do the same in 10 minutes, and again in 15 minutes. Keep your check-ins minimal: poke your head in, don’t make eye contact, and keep your voice calm and low.
Check for poop.
I’ve gotten frustrated when my twins would remain awake, wondering what’s keeping them up. Finally after checking their diaper did I realize they had pooped.
Usually, you can smell poop right when you walk in, but sometimes it’s not as obvious. Check their diapers (carrying them out of the room if necessary) for poop that may be keeping them awake.
Let her eventually fall asleep.
We get so worked up when our kids don’t follow the schedule. It’s 9pm and she’s still awake! You might say. I’ve heard my kids awake for hours after I’ve put them to bed, either talking or shuffling around their bed.
Here’s the thing though: sometimes it’s okay if your child plays instead of sleeps. Yes, I worry he’ll feel tired the next morning. Or he might be entering a defiant stage and testing boundaries. In an ideal world, our kids will sleep exactly when we tell them to.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we’re too excited about the happenings of the day to fall asleep. Or we need to talk to process our thoughts. Maybe we ran around too much in the afternoon and our bodies feel wired.
The reassuring advice I’ve learned is that it’ll be okay. See if your child will fall asleep after a while. Don’t go into battle mode because she decided to sing instead of falling straight to sleep.
More than likely, she’ll go to sleep. She might do so later than you intended. She may even fall asleep on the floor clutching the bear she snatched from the shelves. But at least she fell asleep, even if she had to play to get there.
Get more tips on helping your child sleep:
- Getting Your Child to Stay in Bed All Night: 7 Crucial Tips You Need to Know
- Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night
- Why Your Child Shouldn’t Sleep Too Late
- How to End Your Child’s Nighttime Fears
- 6 Tips on Helping Your Child Sleep in Their Own Bed
Tell me in the comments: What do you do when your child plays instead of sleeps at bedtime?
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