Bedtime battles and stalling can be a common struggle for parents of toddlers. From endless requests for water to last-minute bathroom visits, it can feel like a never-ending cycle. You are not alone if you feel like you’re constantly fighting with your little one to get them to bed.
As a mom of three and sleep consultant, I have experienced bedtime battles firsthand. However, through the years, I’ve discovered helpful strategies that have made a difference in both my own household and the household of my toddler clients.
Below are eight tips to help with your toddler’s bedtime battles:
- Assess Daytime Sleep
- Teach Independent Sleep Skills
- Establish Clear and Consistent Expectations
- Implement a “Silent Return”
- Toddler Clock and Routine Cards
- Fill Their Attention Bucket
- Create a Fun, Consistent, and Choice-filled Routine
- Maintain a Consistent Wake-Up Time
Assess Daytime Sleep
The amount and distribution of daytime sleep can significantly affect a toddler’s bedtime. If your child sleeps too much during the day, this can lead to a TOUGH bedtime! While I don’t recommend getting rid of naps until three years or older, some toddlers may benefit from a shorter daily nap and/or a later bedtime. Shortening your child’s nap helps to create enough sleep pressure before bed (i.e., making them tired enough to fall asleep). I recommend checking to see if your child’s nap length may be the culprit of their bedtime stalling.
If you are unsure how much sleep your toddler needs, grab my free Sleep Needs Chart here! In this chart, I outline sleep needs for babies and children from birth to age nine.
The best way to determine if their nap interferes with bedtime is by capping it in 15-minute increments. For example, if your child currently takes a 2-hour nap, try waking them up from their nap at 1 hour and 45 minutes. After 4-5 days, decide if any positive changes in your child’s bedtime behaviour have occurred. If no changes have occurred, try capping their nap for another 15 minutes. Once again, wait 4-5 days to see if positive changes are noticed. Gradually adjust the nap and bedtime until you find the optimal balance that promotes independent sleep.
Teach Independent Sleep Skills
It’s important to ensure your child knows how to fall asleep independently. Falling asleep independently looks like this: After you have completed the bedtime routine (full of snuggles, of course!), your child goes into their crib/bed FULLY awake. A child who has learned how to fall asleep independently may fuss, cry, or babble until they fall asleep, usually within 10-15 minutes. If they feel uncomfortable or even afraid to fall asleep, it could be their way of telling you it’s too TOUGH to sleep. If so, you’ll want to consider teaching them independent sleep skills. At Your Sleep Story, I walk alongside families in my 1:1 support packages by creating a step-by-step plan to help your child learn to fall asleep independently…and learn to love sleep! (Yup, it’s true!)
Words from a rested parent …
“Once he turned 2, he started regressing. Over time, we realized things had gotten really unmanageable for us. We were spending 90+ minutes putting him to sleep in the evening and then sleeping on his floor most of the night, every night. We weren’t sleeping well, and our son wasn’t sleeping well, we were all exhausted and crabby.
After just a few weeks of working with Alyssa, everyone is sleeping in their own bed, and bedtime only takes 5-15 minutes!!!!! The best part for us is that Alyssa helped us build trust so that our toddler knew we would always check on him and be there for him. We didn’t have to feel like we were abandoning him. We felt like we were building his trust and teaching him this important skill. We could not possibly recommend Your Sleep Story more. We feel like we have gone from surviving to thriving!.”
Establish Clear and Consistent Expectations
Creating clear and consistent expectations around bedtime can help your child feel safe and secure. Creating 2-3 bedtime rules helps create firm boundaries as they know exactly what is expected each night. Remember that your job as the parent is to stay firm with the chosen boundaries, so be mindful when creating the rules. I recommend having your child recite the rules each night before bed. This will help to remind them and reinforce the expectations you have created for your family.
For example, maybe the rules are:
- “I will close my eyes.”
- “I will lay in my bed.”
- “I will stay quiet to help my body rest.”
It can be fun to involve your child in this process, write the sleep rules on a chart, and then have them colour and decorate it. Once decorated, hang the chart near your child’s bedroom.
Implement “Silent Return”
If your toddler frequently leaves their room after being put to bed, practice a “silent return.” Each time they come out of their room, calmly guide them back without engaging in conversation or giving attention. This can be challenging initially and may not be a great option for all toddlers. Give this strategy a try; however, it is time to pivot to a new technique if you are becoming more frustrated and can’t stay neutral. Whether you are using the Silent return or a different strategy, teach your child how to tuck themselves in, which can give them confidence in the middle of the night if their blankets come off!
Toddler Clock & Routine Cards
Consider implementing a toddler clock as a visual cue that effectively communicates when to stay in bed and when they can get up. Toddler clocks provide a clear age-appropriate boundary and can function as a night light. You can begin to use a toddler clock around two years of age. However, this is not a hard and fast rule.
Three tips for success when introducing a toddler clock are:
1. Spend time preparing your child for the change.
2. Applaud ALL success
3. Consistency is KEY.
If your child struggles with stalling in their bedtime routine, consider creating routine cards that help them understand each step of the routine. You can use a combination of pictures and words to help them understand each card. Hang the routine cards in your child’s bedroom so that you can reference them each night together.
Find my favourite toddler clock here!
Fill Their Attention Bucket
Before bedtime, dedicate 10-15 minutes of “special time” with your child. During this period, you give your undivided attention to your child, free from screens or other distractions. Your child can choose what toys you play, books you read, or conversations you have. This focused interaction will help fill their attention bucket, helping your child feel more secure and less likely to stall or protest during the bedtime routine.
Create a Fun, Consistent, and Choice-filled Routine
Make the bedtime routine enjoyable, consistent, and FULL of choice. It’s important to let your child have some autonomy by allowing them to choose aspects of the routine, such as their pyjamas or where they brush their teeth. This sense of choice is age-appropriate, and it can help them feel in control of their bedtime routine. You can use this choice as a way to keep moving the bedtime routine along when stalling occurs. For example, if your child decides they don’t want to put their pyjamas on, you can ask them, “Hannah, would you like the purple of the pink pyjamas tonight?” Offer PLENTY of choices, and remember not to rush the bedtime routine. In my experience, rushing bedtime only leads to MORE stalling!
Maintain a Consistent Wake-Up Time
Remember to keep a consistent wake-up time each morning regardless of how many night wakes or late bedtimes have happened. Consistently waking your child up at the same time each day helps regulate their internal body clock and promotes a regular bedtime. It may sound crazy to wake a child up after a sleepless night. I promise you that a consistent morning is one piece of the puzzle to help minimize bedtime stalling. It’s important to have enough overall daytime sleep pressure, and allowing your child to sleep 1-2 hours later can greatly impact their ability to fall asleep the next night.
Bedtime battles and stalling are common challenges for parents of toddlers. However, you can transform bedtime into a more enjoyable experience with the right strategies and approach. Remember to assess daytime sleep, teach independent sleep skills, establish clear expectations, implement silent returns, use visual cues, fill their attention bucket, create a fun and consistent routine, and maintain a consistent wake-up time. By implementing these eight tips, you can help your toddler develop healthy sleep habits and make bedtime a relaxing and stress-free experience for the whole family. My clients are living proof that this is POSSIBLE!
At Your Sleep Story, I understand the struggles that come with toddler bedtimes, and I’m here to help. I provide personalized support and guidance to help your child develop healthy sleep habits. Don’t hesitate to reach out for a free discovery call and start your journey towards a stress-free bedtime. Remember, you don’t have to face bedtime battles alone!