Dealing with uncontrollable 2 year old bedtime tantrums is hard when your child is hysterical. Learn how to stop the sudden screaming and crying with these tips.
I used to look forward to bedtime, ever since my 2 year old could sleep through the night. But that all changed when, for a week straight, he started having major tantrums every single night.
Just about anything triggered these tantrums, from wanting a cup of water to his blanket not tucked in correctly. And the tantrums lasted for what seemed like forever, until he’d finally worn himself out and fell asleep (on the floor, no less).
And forget about sleeping through the night. Instead, I heard him whimper throughout, all while waking up earlier than usual in a grumpy mood.
9 ways to handle 2 year old bedtime tantrums
Perhaps you can relate. You know all too well the frustration of just wanting to end the day rather than dealing with meltdowns. It’s hard enough dealing with the inevitable tantrums that plague the toddler years, but another to deal with it at bedtime.
Maybe your child used to be the perfect sleeper before bedtime became difficult.
But now, your 2 year old is hysterical at bedtime as you leave the room and turn off the lights. He screams for another book, throwing an all-out tantrum. He even tries to open the door for up to an hour before collapsing in fatigue.
You feel horrible hearing him so upset and angry when he should be sleeping peacefully. And of course, you can’t exactly enjoy those precious hours of alone time before heading to bed yourself.
But first, why does your 2 year old scream at night?
Kids this age are becoming more aware that they’re alone at night, which can invite fears and anxieties new to them. They might know that their parents are still awake while they’re supposed to sleep in their rooms. And perhaps they’re bored and simply want to get out and play.
So, how do you deal with your 2 year old’s tantrums at night? I was at my wit’s end and couldn’t take much more of it, and needed to know how exactly to turn things around.
Scrambling to find a solution, I tried a few tactics to turn things around. I didn’t want to rely on timeouts or typical punishments, but I still wanted to hold my ground and avoid catering to his whims.
Thankfully… it worked. The tantrums stopped, and not just because I waited for a phase to pass, but because of these particular steps that anyone can take. Check out what worked for me as well as several moms to stop the 2 year old bedtime tantrums:
1. Don’t engage in a fight
Power struggles with kids can feel like a flame, don’t you think? The more you fan them, the bigger they get.
As tempting as it is to yell, get upset, and otherwise react to your child’s antics… don’t. This only “rewards” the very behavior you’re trying to avoid. Think of it this way: the angrier you get, the more “reason” he has to engage in a fight.
On the flip side, the calmer you remain, the more he’ll mirror your behavior and calm down as well. I know, easier said than done, and often the biggest reason motherhood is hard. But consider it a daily practice to perfect: it’ll be difficult in the beginning but will get easier over time.
And if you’re exhausted and feeling guilty from losing your temper with your child, rest assured you’re not alone. But here’s the thing: even if it seems like you’ve tried just about everything, you CAN stop losing your temper… if you start from the inside out and change from within.
In my PDF, How to Finally Stop Losing Your Temper, I’ll show you how to reflect on who you’re being, your habits and triggers, and what you can do when you feel that rush of anger rising within you. Download your PDF below—at no cost to you.
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2. Create and stick to a consistent bedtime routine
I’ve long been a fan of routines ever since I discovered how they can do much of the “nagging” for you. You see, when kids do the same things over and over, these activities soon become second nature. It’s similar to how you brush your teeth every night without prompting—it almost feels strange not to.
The same is true with kids. The more consistently they do and expect certain activities, the less likely they’ll resist. They’ll automatically know to grab their pajamas, take a bath after dinner, or clean up their toys after reading books.
As I say in my book, Parenting with Purpose:
“Routines do the parenting work for you. You don’t need to nag to get the next task done. Your child won’t throw a tantrum at the park when you say you’re heading home for lunch. These are activities he expects as normal because you do them all the time. He won’t question every decision you make or assume you’ve decided to leave the park because you’re being a ‘mean mommy.'”
The trick is staying consistent in the beginning—habits only feel easy after they’ve been adopted for a while.
3. Adjust your child’s room
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How conducive is your 2 year old’s bedroom for sleep?
For instance, if the sun is out even by bedtime, he might be finding it hard to fall asleep when his surroundings are still so bright. Darkening curtains like these would block most of the light and encourage him to sleep well.
Or conversely, if he struggles with separation anxiety at night, the room might be too dark for a good night of sleep. A night light (especially one that’s also a toddler alarm clock like this) can make the room less scary.
And sometimes all it takes to stop the 2 year old bedtime tantrums is by adding something new, like a small, toddler pillow or a special stuffed animal. It’s enough to entice your child to sleep and stay in bed, and gives night time a fun, new twist.
On that note, avoid making a big hoopla about the new pillow or toy—he might see it as a “bribe” in a power struggle and might not take to it.
4. Adjust nap time
Despite routines and consistency, your child’s sleep is bound to fluctuate simply because, well… he’s a kid. He’s going through his own developmental growth and different sleep needs. What may have been working so well for months is now out the door with yet another leap or milestone.
If his sleep starts getting messy, you know it’s time to experiment with nap time. For instance, if he’s sleeping too long that he’s not sleepy enough come bedtime, cut his nap time shorter than usual. He might be too wired to fall asleep, which explains those rough 2 year old bedtime tantrums.
On the flip side, he might be overtired from the lack of sleep come bedtime. This can happen if he takes too long to fall asleep for a nap (or skips it entirely) that he’s grumpy and miserable by the evening. If so, see if you can push nap time back later when he’s tired so he’ll actually sleep.
5. Have an earlier bedtime
The evening is often the most challenging part of the day. We’re exhausted and lack willpower and patience than when we started in the morning. And if your 2 year old happens to skip a nap, he’s crankier than usual and can’t seem to last until bedtime.
A quick fix? Have an earlier bedtime. Bedtime tantrums are usually signs that kids are already tired. An earlier bedtime could ensure that he’s asleep before these meltdowns happen.
One way to adjust for an earlier bedtime is to do so in short, 15-minute increments. If bedtime is usually at 8pm but you’d like him asleep by 7pm from now on, put him down by 7:45pm tonight. Then the following night, adjust for another 15 minutes and put him down by 7:30pm, and so forth.
Another way is to adjust for a really early bedtime at once. If you feel like he’s simply beyond exhausted and needs an overhaul, put him down much earlier than usual. For instance, if bedtime has been 9pm, put him down at 7pm to see if that does the trick.
6. Keep your evenings calm
Are your evenings busy and rushed, even right before bedtime? Your 2 year old might be crying at bedtime suddenly because his evenings are too overwhelming.
Focus on activities that help him relax so he’s not wired and overstimulated for sleep.
You might sit in his room and read a few bedtime books, listen to calm music, and give him a long, warm bath. Avoid television (especially suspenseful shows) and too much physical activity (unless you feel this tires him out better).
The calmer your evenings, the better prepared he’ll be—mentally and physically—to welcome sleep without a fight.
7. Offer choices
Power struggles often crop up because kids sense a lack of control in their lives. After all, we determine when they sleep, what to eat for their meals, and where to go for the day. Add these up and they can easily feel restricted and bossed around.
Offering choices can alleviate much of the bedtime stress by empowering your child with a voice. Yup, even over something as simple as which pajamas to wear or whether he’d like to bring a stuffed animal to bed.
You might start your bedtime off by giving him a choice of three stuffed animals or books to read and cuddle with. Ask him if he’d like the door completely shut or left ajar. See if he prefers the night light next to his bed or by the closet.
With a say in the matter, he’ll be more invested in bedtime and likelier to follow through—after all, he made the decisions, not you.
8. Hold your ground
When your patience is running theme, it’s tempting to give in to just about every request your 2 year old makes. One more book? Okay, fine. Want to get out of the crib? Just this one time. Stay until he falls asleep? I guess if that’s the only thing that will finally work.
Except, of course… we all know how it ends.
One more book leads to four, before he throws a fit about anything and everything. Sleeping in your bed this one time means the pattern continues every night. And you find yourself sitting in his room for up to an hour each night, wondering how you got yourself here in the first place.
At the end of the day, remember: you are the parent.
Don’t let him talk you into their unreasonable demands or unsustainable habits. If you truly do need to compromise, make sure you have a deadline in mind so this pattern doesn’t continue (for instance, letting him sleep with you while he’s sick).
Stick to your guns and eventually he’ll back to the routine he used to have.
9. Praise your child the next morning
Your night may have been rough, with your 2 year old screaming for you, yanking the doorknob, and waking up throughout the night.
Still… he did it. He slept in his bed (or at least in his room).
So, the next morning, praise him for the progress he made. Even if he still threw a bedtime tantrum and woke up zillions of times. Acknowledge the behaviors and steps he took that you’d like him to continue doing. You might praise him for:
- Sleeping in his room instead of yours.
- “Only” waking up two times instead of the usual four.
- Hugging his lovey for comfort.
- Waking up without crying.
You may not have had the perfect night, but the more you praise the behavior you want to see, the more confident and motivated he’ll be to continue doing just that.
Dealing with 2 year old bedtime tantrums can make for one stressed out mom. Thankfully, you can do plenty to turn things around, even when you feel like you can’t handle the stress any longer.
First, don’t engage in a fight, as tempting as it might be—this will only reward the very behavior you don’t want to continue. Instead, create and stick to a consistent routine so your 2 year old can begin to expect a certain flow and rhythm to his day.
Adjust his room so it’s more conducive to sleep and addresses any issues that could be preventing him from sleeping. Experiment with nap and bedtimes so he’s more likely to sleep instead of being too wired or overtired. Keep your evenings calm to welcome a smooth transition into bedtime.
Then, offer parent-approved choices to give him a say in bedtime. Hold your ground against unreasonable demands to set expectations. And finally, praise him for whatever progress he made, from sleeping in his room to waking up fewer times than usual.
No more nightly tantrums, friend! Now you can look forward to—not dread—your evenings once again.
Get more tips:
- 7 Proven Strategies to Handle Bedtime Tantrums
- What to Do When Your Toddler Is Hysterical at Bedtime
- How to Establish a Solid 2 Year Old Bedtime
- What to Do When Your Toddler Wakes Up Every Night
- How to Stop Toddler Bedtime Tantrums
In my PDF, How to Finally Stop Losing Your Temper, I’ll show you how to reflect on who you’re being, your habits and triggers, and what you can do when you feel that rush of anger rising within you. Join my newsletter and download your PDF below—at no cost to you: