Bedtimes for children can be a challenge for many parents. Here’s how to end toddler bedtime tantrums, from resisting sleep to not staying in their room.
On most nights, bath time starts at 6:30, followed by pajamas and reading. By 7pm, our three-year-old is tucked into his twin bed and dozing the night away.
But bedtime wasn’t always like that. From screaming fits to not staying in his bed, my husband and I have had our share of bedtime tantrums.
How to handle toddler bedtime tantrums and battles
Whether your child sulks, throws a fit or tries to delay bedtime, she’s making it clear she doesn’t want to go to bed. When kids and parents clash, it’s easy to lose our temper instead of remaining calm and proactive. Consider these tactics instead:
1. Establish bedtime routines
I’m a huge fan of routines. They give kids predictability, especially when they don’t always understand what’s going on.
Your days should consist of regular activities roughly in the same order around the same time of day. Then, decide on a bedtime routine you and your child are happy with. Some activities that may work:
- bath time
- putting on pajamas
- reading books
- saying good night to things in the room
- hugs and kisses
- singing songs
2. Let your toddler know when bedtime is coming up
Your child may be so focused on a project or having fun playing with toys and other family members. Springing bedtime on her out of the blue doesn’t help with the transition.
Instead, let her a few minutes before you plan to start. In our home, I tell my son I’ll run his bath water in 10 minutes. He can then continue playing until the 10 minutes have passed.
You can also explain the concept of time, even if she may not understand it completely. She’ll come to understand that 7pm is bedtime, even if she can’t tell time just yet.
3. Make bedtime positive
You know your child best, so play to her interest. Maybe it’s snuggling with a beloved toy or reading a new book. Splashing in the tub or, in my son’s case, applying lotion to his tummy. Find an activity your child enjoys that you can include in the bedtime routine.
4. Stay consistent during toddler bedtime tantrums
Flexibility is fine, but you’ll want to stay consistent with routines and rules. If you put bedtime off by an hour all the time, your child won’t believe you when you say you’re serious this time. Instead, stay consistent with bedtimes and what you will and won’t allow.
5. Adjust your toddler’s bedtime and nap times
Other times, your child will go to bed, only to stay awake for an hour or more. My son has done this, where we’ll hear him singing or talking in bed for up to two hours before finally conking out. To make matters worse, kids can’t or won’t make up for lost hours and still wake up at the same time the next morning.
And they differ in how much sleep they need. For instance, even among three-year-olds, kids can sleep anywhere from 10 to 14 hours total in a day.
If your child is fine on 11 hours of sleep but she’s in bed for 12, put her down later or wake her up earlier by an hour. Or if she takes a nap, keep her awake at least four hours from the time she wakes up from the last nap until bedtime. Otherwise, she just may not be sleepy enough.
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6. Tire your toddler out
Kids shouldn’t remain sedentary for longer than an hour at a time, except sleep. I’ve noticed my son tends to sleep better when he’s had a bit of physical activity for the day.
Go for a walk around the block, play chase at home, or throw balls. These activities energize your child’s body enough so that come bedtime, he’ll feel sleepy.
7. Consider any fears your toddler may have
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One of the biggest bedtime battles is convincing children to stay put when lights are out. Maybe your child is transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed or she’s moving from co-sleeping to a room of her own. Maybe she just refuses to stay in bed.
Before assuming she’s causing trouble, assess whether she could have any nighttime fears. These fears could be preventing her from staying in bed.
I noticed my son was afraid of the dark, especially with curtains blocking all the light. The solution? A night light. Other fears could include shadows, scary thoughts, or new experiences she’s still sorting out.
8. Place baby gates or a child-proof knob on the inside of your toddler’s door
Just as a crib contained your child within a safe space, so too can baby gates or a child-proof knob. If your child gets upset, explain that it’s bedtime and that you’re right in the next room. (Don’t forget to use wall protectors for those gates, too!)
Check in every 15 minutes or so to reassure her, if doing so doesn’t elicit even more of a reaction. Don’t be surprised if you find her asleep on the floor, by the door or anywhere else but the bed.
9. Check in if your toddler wakes up in the middle of the night
Instead of falling back to sleep, your child will probably cry for you when she wakes up at night. Reassure her once again that it’s sleep time. Tell her she’s doing so well trying to sleep in her bed, and that you’re right in the next room.
10. Sleep on the floor in your toddler’s room
Sometimes it’s easier on everyone if you sleep in your child’s room for a few nights. Then over the next few nights, lessen your presence as she eases into her new bed or room.
Try sleeping in her room the whole night at first. Then leave in the middle of the night to go back to your room the next night. Then stay with her until she falls asleep. And finally you’ll be able to kiss good night and leave her to herself.
You won’t have a magical night when everything falls into place. You might try several tactics over a week or two, with each day improving on the one before. Or you feel helpless during the process, thinking that you’re doomed to sleep deprivation.
She might still wake up from time to time, from a nightmare, because she can’t find her stuffed animal, or even because she pooped.
But over time, she’ll climb into bed and sleep straight through the night—all without putting up a fight.
Get more tips on handling toddler bedtime tantrums:
- 10 Things You Should Do when You Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed
- What to Do when Your Child Plays Instead of Sleeps
- Getting Your Child to Stay in Bed All Night: 7 Crucial Tips You Need to Know
- 6 Tips on Helping Your Child Sleep in Their Own Bed
- Toddler Fighting Sleep? 5 Tips You Haven’t Tried
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