Toddler Bedtime Battles

Toddler Bedtime Battles

I am asked this question about 5 times a day! Honestly, toddlers cause more issues in sleep than newborns and infants do. Why? Because they know what they want and they want it NOW. It’s normal, of course, as your child gets older to be more aware of their bedroom, something “scary”, fears and of course they develop enough knowledge to know what keeps you close to them at all times. I was asked this question today by a fellow mom and another mom commented on it that she “needed to contact her sleep consultant because she will not give you a “trial and error” or list of things to try, rather, she will give you the way that works 100%!”

As a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I would have to disagree. If anyone tells you there is a one way route that will 100% cure your toddler of their night time melt downs and habits they’re wrong. As a mother of completely different children I know and understand that there is not a one way fits all solution! That’s why as consultants (good ones at least) when we work with you we give you an Intake Form and a phone/in person/Skype consult. Why? We want to see the FULL picture, the ins and outs of a child’s day.

A toddler fighting sleep because they are a stubborn child is completely different than a 3 year old who fights bedtime because of a trauma, move, divorce, or scary event that happened to them.

But we have all been there at bedtime with our toddlers and it seems to get worse around the age of 3+ when most of our toddlers are in a big kid bed and have the ability to leave their room when ever they please.

They’ll say things like
“I am so hungry!”

“I need a cup of water!”

“Mommy, I have to pee again!”

“I am scared you’re going to leave me”

“I don’t like sleeping by myself mama.”

All valid reasons to not sleep but are they real? Most of us can tell but sometimes you second guess yourself and think “maybe he didn’t get enough dinner?”

So for most of you out there the issues is probably you have a toddler/child that has figured out what works and what makes it even worse is they are extremely stubborn and strong willed. But, those kids aren’t unteachable they just need firm boundaries and rules. So how can we set them up for bedtime success?


Every night at the same time starting your bedtime routine will signal that it’s time for bed. Explain to your 3+ year old that we need to start getting ready for bed. This is what you can to do prevent them coming up with 25 excuses to not go to sleep.

  1. Have a graphic that shows what happens at bedtime

  2. Same routine every night

  3. Give them a big glass of water and offer them a “last chance” snack. Once bedtime starts there is no snack. Period, those are the family rules.

  4. Bathroom: for last potty break, brushing teething and washing up (bath time can happen now too)

  5. Bedroom: Pj’s, lotion, story time. During this time I like to tell my clients to repeat and remind! Remind your child that this is sleep time, and as discussed the family rule is Jack sleeps in his own bed and doesn’t come in by mommy until the morning time. Give them encouragement and set the boundaries up for them to know what is acceptable and not.

Boundaries & Family Sleep Rules

Toddlers need boundaries because they do not run the show, you do. Of course they are you children and we give them a say in their life and we love them. We want them to feel like they matter and they have a say in life for what they like and do not like. For example, our daughter does not like to hug new people. As her parents we have notice that boundary she has and we respect it. We do not make our children do things that make them uncomfortable or scared.

However, bedtime is a family rule and as a family we respect the rules. If a trauma has happened mom or dad can sleep with the child until they are comfortable and know they are safe. Please contact me to discuss this further.

You family rules around sleep and respecting one another will come into play here. You need to discuss the rules at bedtime and what is expected of your child. There can be consequences for a child that does not listen to the family rules and disrespects over and over again. Maybe they don’t get to go to the zoo with their cousins like promised if they cannot accept the family sleep rules. This is completely up to you and your partner.

Stand Firm

You may need to walk your child back to their room 1-100 times a night or you may set up a gate. Even so you will undoubtably have to return your child to their bed a lot in the first week of making sure they stay in their own bed!

When we start this process you are going to:

  1. Set up Sleep Rules

  2. Enforce Sleep Rules

  3. Be Consistent

When implementing these sleep rules you must be firm. Whether you are putting a gate up and not allowing them to exit their room or they exit their room you will need to be consistent and firm.

Example of gate: your toddler walks up to the gate and screams for you and wakes up the whole house. You return to their room, you do not show frustration or anger, you stay calm and return them to their bed. Calming tell them it’s bedtime and the rule is everyone sleeps in their own bed. Leave the room. Repeat 1-100 times a night until they get the picture.

Example of no gate: we call this the “Silent Return”. Every time they wake up you will not engage in conversation or show them you are angry, you will simply return them to their room and remain positive. This could happen 1-100 times a night and every time repeat the same phrase “Jack, it’s time for bed, the rules in our house are you sleep in your own bed every night and stay there, it’s time for bed, I love you, do not leave your bed again.”

Of course the caveat to this is ACTUALLY needing to use the restroom or being ill.

Use your spidy sense  I’m sure you’ll figure it out!

As always if you need more one on one help please contact me as soon as possible!

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