Bedtimes for children can be a challenge for many parents. Here’s how to stop toddler bedtime tantrums, from resisting sleep to not staying in their room.
For the past week, your toddler has complete meltdowns about bedtime. She’s fine with the idea of going to sleep, and will happily take a bath and read bedtime books. But as soon as you leave the room, the tantrums begin.
She’ll whine, scream, and throw just about every excuse to get you to prolong the bedtime routine. She’s even gotten out of bed and figured out how to open the door to her room. What had once been a relaxing end to the day has now become a nightmare to deal with.
As far as you can tell, you can’t pinpoint any major changes in her life to warrant this sudden response to being alone at night. And with a pattern that doesn’t seem to be improving by the day, you’re left wondering what to do to stop these toddler bedtime tantrums.
How to stop toddler bedtime tantrums
Bedtime wasn’t always easy for me, even when all my kids were at the toddler stage.
Sure, it helped to have a routine to keep their nights consistent. But from screaming fits to not staying in bed, my kids have had their share of toddler bedtime tantrums. This behavior was even more confusing when it came on so suddenly, just when I thought I was in the clear.
And the end of the day—when willpower and patience are at their lowest—doesn’t exactly make for a great time to deal with a tantrum.
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. And when you clash, it’s easy to lose your temper instead of remaining calm and proactive.
What can you do to turn things around?
1. Adjust your toddler’s bedtime and nap times
Has your child gone to bed, only to stay away for an hour or more? She may not be sleepy enough come bedtime, and resists ending the day because she’d rather stay awake.
But she has always gone to sleep by 7pm, you might think.
As predictable as she had been up to this point, her needs might change the older she gets. Just because she had always slept for 12 hours at night doesn’t mean she still needs to sleep that much right now.
If you think she’s fine on 11 hours of sleep but she’s in bed for 12, experiment with her naps and bedtime. For instance, put her down for a later bedtime, or wake her up earlier the next morning. Keep her awake at least for hours from the time she wakes up from her nap until bedtime.
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2. Tire your toddler out
Could your toddler not have enough physical activity during the day to warrant feeling tired by nighttime? Provide her with plenty of activity throughout the day so that she’s more likely to welcome a good night of sleep.
In fact, our pediatrician has said that kids shouldn’t remain sedentary for longer than an hour at a time, except for sleep. Even if she is reading or playing with building blocks in the same spot, she needs to physically move or take a break at least every hour.
Go for a walk around the block, play chase at home, or roll balls to one another. These activities energize her body enough so that come bedtime, she’ll feel sleepy.
3. Establish bedtime routines
I’m a big fan of routines. The provide kids the predictability they need to know what to expect, and take the nagging out of your day. After all, when your child does the same things in the same order at the same time, she’s more likely to comply.
To create a routine, start by setting times for eating and sleeping. Try to eat your meals and snacks and put her to bed at the same time every day. Then, within those activities, especially at bedtime, create a “ritual” that you’ll do in the same order.
For instance, you might start the bedtime routine by giving her a bath at 6:45pm every night. You’d then follow that with putting her into pajamas and reading two books. Next, she can say “good night” to her stuffed animals and sing songs with you. And finally, you can end the night with hugs and kisses.
And make the bedtime routine positive. Maybe it’s snuggling with a beloved toy or reading a new book. Perhaps she loves splashing in the tub or applying lotion to her tummy. Find an activity she enjoys that you can include in the bedtime routine.
4. Let your toddler know when bedtime is coming up
One of the biggest reasons toddler bedtime tantrums happen is because of the abrupt transition from one activity to the next.
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 allow for a smooth transition, and makes bedtime feel like a dreaded activity.
Instead, let her know a few minutes before you plan to start. You might say, “We’ll run your bath water in 10 minutes.” She can then continue playing until those 10 minutes have passed. You might even give further warnings, like when you reach the five minute mark.
And finally, once it’s nearly time to bathe, you can then encourage her to wrap up her activity. Maybe that means she gets one last roll of the ball or to start gathering the building blocks together.
5. Stay consistent
Your toddler might be throwing tantrums because you haven’t been consistent with your word.
Let’s say your routine is supposed to start by 6:45pm, but she asks to keep playing instead. If you allow her to push the routine back all the time, she’s less likely to believe you when you claim you’re “serious” this time.
Yes, make room for flexibility, but reserve those for special occasions. For the most part, stay consistent with your word, from when to start—and end—your bedtime routine.
6. Address your toddler’s fears
One of the biggest bedtime battles is convincing your toddler to stay in bed when the lights are out. She might try to climb out of her crib, walks around her room, or rushes to the door when you leave.
Before assuming she’s causing trouble, consider any nighttime fears preventing her from staying in bed.
Maybe she’s transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed or moving from co-sleeping to a room of her own. Perhaps she’s scared of the new shadows she has noticed, or feels unsettled after watching an intense movie.
If she’s afraid of the dark, install a night light. If she’s scared of a movie, talk about what happened and how you might relate it to your own lives. Reassure her that she’s always loved, even with new experiences she’s still sorting out.
7. Use door knob covers or baby gates
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Is your toddler able to get out of bed and even open the door to his room? You might have had to walk back to her room over and over, for two hours straight.
To prevent this from happening, put door knob covers on the inside of her room or use baby gates. (Don’t forget to use wall protectors for those gates, too!) This will prevent her from constantly getting out of her room.
Feel weird that you’re keeping her locked in her room? Think of it as a bigger “crib.” She had once been contained within the walls of her crib, and now she’ll stay safely within the walls of her room. Baby proof her room, and use a baby monitor to check in on her as well.
Then, check in every 15 minutes or so to reassure her that you’re still here and that it’s time to sleep. Don’t be surprised if you find her asleep on the floor, by the door or anywhere else but the bed for the first few nights.
8. Check in during middle of the night wake ups
Now that she has fallen asleep come bedtime, what do you do when she wakes up in the middle of the night?
Giving in becomes more tempting, since you’ve been startled awake and are equally sleep-deprived. But don’t allow her to sleep in your bed, or agree to sleep in hers. This only starts a habit that will be difficult to undo down the line.
Instead, reassure her once again that it’s still time to sleep, and put her back into her room. Check in on her every 15 minutes if she’s still crying, until she finally falls asleep.
You’re not doomed to sleep deprivation forever, friend. Even though these toddler bedtime tantrums feel impossible, you can definitely turn them around.
Start by adjusting your toddler’s sleep times, like making sure she has enough time to be awake between nap and bed times. Tire her out throughout the day so she welcomes a good night of sleep. Establish routines, especially for bedtime, so she knows what to expect.
Once bedtime is about to start, give her a heads up so the transition doesn’t feel so sudden. Stay consistent with your rules and expectations so she knows you mean your word. Address fears she might have, from fear of the dark to new changes in her life.
Keep her contained in her room with door knob covers or baby gates, checking in on her every few minutes. And finally, stay just as consistent during middle of the night wake ups.
As sudden and exhausting as these tantrums might be, with the right steps, you’ll be back to getting a full night of sleep in no time.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Toddler Is Hysterical at Bedtime
- 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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