Struggling with 2 year old bedtime battles? Learn what time your child should go to sleep, sample schedules to try, and how to avoid bedtime transition troubles right here.
The two-year mark seems to come with its own bedtime challenge. You might have a “good sleeper”—even since infancy—but when at two years old, well… things changed.
For one thing, it now takes her an hour to sleep, and that’s with you staying in her room until she finally does. Perhaps she demands to sleep in your bed instead of hers. Or maybe she’s in bed, but plays and keeps herself up until 10pm.
It doesn’t help when changes in your life—holidays, new house/baby/school, vacation—disrupt your routine.
The worst part? Despite all these challenges with your 2 year old bedtime, she wakes up at 5:30 in the morning, ready to go.
How to establish a solid 2 year old bedtime
I hear ya, friend. As consistent as I’ve been with my boys’ bedtime, I certainly ran into some troubles around the two-year mark. They’d stay awake for an hour, getting out of bed to collect books and toys. Other times, they wouldn’t even go to bed, filling “bedtime” with lots of crying and excuses to stall.
I started toying with their routine, as well as how many hours they actually needed to sleep. And I found that certain habits helped steer my kids in the right direction once again. No more whining, excuses, or taking forever to fall asleep. Now we had a solid 2 year old bedtime that was more predictable than ever.
Take a look at these best practices, and hopefully you can create a bedtime routine for you and your 2 year old:
1. Shoot for a bedtime 12 hours before wake-up time
Until now, the “official time” my kids wake up is 7am, and I can’t remember when it wasn’t that way.
Kids should get about 11-12 hours of sleep at night. So if you need your 2 year old to be up by 7am, shoot for a 7pm bedtime. This way, they’re not overtired by the next morning (or cranky come the “witching hours”).
How do you know if your 2 year old needs 11 or 12 hours? She likely only needs 11 if she’s in bed at 7pm and up by 6am the next morning. And as life goes on, she likely won’t always wake up at the same time, every time—you’re working with a range, not a precise time.
But generally, a good night of sleep for kids starts with getting 11-12 hours of rest each night.
2. Don’t put your 2 year old to sleep past 8:30pm
Many parents put their kids to bed based on the family circumstances. Maybe one parent gets home late from work and wants to play with the kids. Or perhaps another stays home with the kids and can sleep late at night (and wake up late in the morning).
We all have our reasons for putting our kids to bed at the time we currently do. Still, even if your 2 year old technically gets 12 hours of sleep at night, aim for a bedtime no later than 8:30pm.
For instance, a night of sleep from 8pm to 8am ties in with your child’s circadian clock better than one from 11pm to 11am. You’ll find that sleeping earlier rather than later can make your 2 year old bedtime much easier and manageable.
3. Wind down early in the evening
Does transitioning to bedtime feel like pulling teeth with your 2 year old? Part of the problem could be the way your evenings feel leading up to it. If tickle fests, action-packed television, and rushing through chores describe your typical evening, your child may not be ready to snooze for the night just yet.
Instead, dedicate the last 30 minutes before bedtime for low-key activities. Give your toddler a relaxing bath, read books (calm ones, if need be), and ask her about her favorite part of the day. Slow-paced moments help her better prepare for a good night of sleep.
4. Schedule one midday nap
Some toddlers put up a fight come bedtime because they’re simply not sleepy enough, especially if they take a long or late nap. Waking up at 4pm from a nap will almost always mean your 2 year old won’t sleep until hours later, no matter what time you start bedtime.
On the flip side, an early or too-short nap could make her feel overtired and restless come bedtime. Despite needing the sleep, the lack of it will actually prevent her from falling asleep easily.
Instead, aim for one midday nap, right in the middle of the day. Let’s say your toddler takes a two-hour nap and is awake between 7am and 7pm. Schedule the nap from 12-2pm, giving her five hours in the morning and another five in the evening to be awake.
5. Set a timer during your bedtime routine
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I set a timer for just about anything, from how long they can play before we read books to when it’s time to clean up for the day.
Timers make your schedule “neutral,” especially if your 2 year old feels like you decide everything about her bedtime routine. She’s less likely to argue or whine when the timer says it’s time to take a bath—it’s simply a fact.
So, if she tends to throw excuses about going to bed, or drags the process longer than needed, use a timer to track your bedtime routine. Maybe that’s setting 20 minutes of coloring and painting before it’s time to take a bath. Or perhaps she gets five minutes to tinker with her toys before it’s lights out.
6. Give your child choices about bedtime
Being told what to do 90% of the time can take a toll on even the most patient child. And considering how many directions kids get around bedtime, it’s easy to see why many of them put up a fight or drag their feet.
One simple change you can do is to offer your 2 year old parent-approved choices about bedtime. For instance, I’ve asked my kids to choose the books we’ll read that night, or whether they’d like to leave their block creations up or take it down.
By making a choice, your child will be more invested and follow through with the task. Picking out pajamas won’t be yet another power struggle when she gets to decide which set she’d like to wear.
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7. Give your child consequences
Your child’s behavior is often simply a habit, reinforced time and time again. If she has learned that calling out your name from bed means getting to sleep in yours, she’ll continue to do exactly that. The response to her behavior cements the choices she makes, leading to a cycle that won’t always break on its own.
Instead, hold her accountable for her choices by giving consequences, preferably those that match the behavior.
Let’s say she keeps getting out of bed to collect her toys, despite you asking her to stay tucked in. The next evening, let her know that if she does that, you’ll remove her toys from her room. So, she can either stay in bed and keep the toys in her room, or choose to get out of bed but have her toys removed.
The more you can hold your ground on the consequences of her actions, the better she’ll be able to learn from them.
8. Stay consistent with your routine
A bedtime routine is as effective as it is consistent.
You see, one of the benefits of routines is that daily tasks become automatic—so much so that you hardly even need to remind your child what part of bedtime comes next. Consistency can help her build the habits you want her to continue, while eliminating the ones you don’t.
She’s also comforted by the familiarity of this part of her day. Being able to predict—and seeing your predictions come true—feels reassuring to young kids.
And consistent repetition sends the message that this is simply how it is. Walking her back to her room each time—instead of allowing her to sleep in yours—makes her less likely to get out of bed.
Whether your child takes forever to fall asleep or fights you every night, creating a solid 2 year old bedtime is absolutely possible.
Aim for 11-12 hours of sleep a night—if she wakes up at 7am, bedtime should come by 7pm. At the same time, stick to a bedtime no later than 8:30pm to work with her body’s circadian rhythms. Spend about 30 minutes before she falls asleep winding down with low-key activities so she’s more likely to fall asleep.
Schedule her nap in the middle of the day so she’s awake long enough to feel sleepy but not too long that she’s overtired. If you struggle with bedtime transitions, use a timer to track the activities (instead of nagging her through each one).
You can also offer choices so she feels more invested in the decisions she makes. If she doesn’t, follow through with appropriate consequences and hold her accountable for her behavior. And finally, stay consistent with your routine to make it effective and familiar.
I’m happy to say that our evenings hum along quite smoothly in our house now—no more excuses, whining, or staying up for hours past bedtime.
Get more tips:
- 7 Proven Strategies to Handle Bedtime Tantrums
- Genius Ways to Make Bedtime Easier
- Top Children’s Books about Bedtime
- How to End Bedtime Battles and Get Your Child to Finally Sleep
- 6 Ways to Resolve Your 2 Year Old Sleep Problems
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Toddler Discipline Strategies
Are your current discipline methods just not cutting it with your toddler?
Learn 9 out-of-the-box parenting strategies that will help you deal with your child's challenging behavior.
Imagine transforming your relationship with your child, using just the tips you'll learn right here. Join over 30,000 parents who've signed up for my newsletter, and download your PDF below—at no cost to you: