How can I avoid bedtime battles with my toddler?
Real Mom Problem
“My 3 year old daughter is horrible about bedtime. It doesn't matter how consistent a routine is, the minute we say "Good night. I love you." she screams. Are we doing something wrong?”
- 1. Start a consistent bedtime routine and stick to it
- 2. Consider adjusting your toddler's nap schedule (or eliminating naps altogether)
- 3. Find out if your toddler has bedtime fears and try to address them
- 4. It's common for a toddler to need help getting back on a normal sleep schedule after an illness or teething
Real Mom Solutions
Are you struggling to get a tired toddler to sleep? The moms of CafeMom know what you're going through and have shared successful strategies for making bedtime more peaceful.
Create a Bedtime Routine
I never really believed it when I read how much easier it is with a bedtime routine, I wish I would have tried it earlier. We fought and fought with out 3 year old to get him to bed, lots of nights it would be 12 or after and he'd still be sneaking out of his bed. We started a bedtime routine about 8 and now he is in bed and sleeping by 9 every single night! Nothing exciting, first a bath, then we run around the house in our towel, jammies, a small snack while we read two books, brush our teeth, rock for a few minutes, and into bed!! It's wonderful!
I ended up buying several night lights and plugged them all in and had his room lit up like Christmas. When the night lights no longer caught his attention, we strung up Christmas lights along the top of the walls where he couldn't touch them and set them on running. He'd lay there and watch the "running" lights until he fell asleep. It also helps to give them a warm bath on those particularly busy days before putting them to bed. I put lavender and chamomile in his bath to calm him down and then take some extra time to massage him helps to relax his muscles and wind him down. Even to this day, he still likes to have his calming bath and massage. It's just something you have to stick with and make routine so that he/she will get the message that they have to stay in their own bed.
I am a firm believer in a bedtime routine. I have a 5 and a 3 year old and I have stuck with a routine as long as they understood the concept of a bedtime. I start about 45 min before bedtime: pickup toys in bedroom/playroom, pick out PJs, brush teeth and wash face (we do showers in the morning rather then at night,) and then story time. Setting a structured routine has definitely worked for us because our evenings are pretty calm and relaxed.
With my daughter (just turned 4) we do bath time, then teeth brushing, then crawling into bed with a snack and water. She turns on her night light while I turn on her fan. I lay in bed with her and read 3 short books by lantern light with her fan running. She usually falls asleep before the end of the 3rd one. On nights she has trouble falling asleep (who doesn't have those nights) she'll ask me to rub her feet or back for a couple minutes and then she's out. Also, we don't do a bedtime, we keep it flexible and do a general schedule so she knows what comes after which activity. She instantly gets sleepy right after a bath and sometimes barely finishes brushing her teeth before I get "Mooommmmm...I'll meet you in my room with a book, hurry please, lets go to bed"
Is There a Reason for the Resistance?
It may take some detective work to get to the bottom of it. Perhaps she's scared. If so, give her a "monster light" - a flashlight specifically designed to smash out monsters (worked for my son).
If overtired and/or going to bed too late, kids will fight sleep. Kids in general will fight sleep but more so if they're overtired. I would reevaluate her schedule.
Make Some Bedtime Rules
Bedtime rules are key. Make sure her night routine is at least 30 minutes in her room reading books and cuddling. You want to make night routines pleasant and relaxing; something that you both look forward to because it's such a special time. Use classical music in the background to promote relaxation and keep it in a loop while she's sleeping. Implement reward charts and explain to her what it means (i.e. sleeping nicely means staying in bed, going to sleep quietly etc). She will protest but do not give in. She needs to know what you expect of her so ask her to help you make up "sleep rules", post it on her wall and then before it's time to turn off the light and go to sleep, you both recite the "sleep rules" together. Make this part of your routine. You can lie with her but try to lie on the floor and not her bed (you don't want to create another sleep association). Do not engage her. If she tries to get out of bed, remind her of the rewards. if she continues to do so or throws a fit, simply get up, tell her you're going to leave because it's too noisy and it's bedtime and when she stops you will come back in but not before that. If she continues, leave the room and block her door with a baby gate to prevent her from running out. You can hide around the corner and remind her that you will come back in if she stops crying and gets back into bed. Then return to her room if she follows the rules. Trust me, you'll have to do this a million times for a few nights but if you're consistent and respond to her protests in the same manner, she will learn. STAY STRONG!
You just have to keep putting her back in bed. Over and over until she stays there. If she makes excuses--I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, I'm not tired--just keep telling her it's bedtime and put her back.
My son uses the old "I have to go potty" excuse. He knows we can't turn that one down. We just keep sending him back to bed, we also tell him for each time he comes out without using the potty he loses a toy.
Start a Reward System
Use a sticker chart to reward her for "going to bed nicely". This mean no tantrums, no throwing things etc... Make sure you explain things to her and then in the morning, after every good night, give her a sticker to put on the chart. After X number of stickers, tell her that you will take her to the store to get a little treat or present.