Raising a toddler comes with its fair share of challenges, right? Between the growing sense of independence (hellooooo, tantrums!), the strange obsessions and aversions that seem to change by the minute (your toddler loves ketchup, until the day he decides he hates it), and the newfound mobility (anyone else entered a room to find their toddler scaling a piece of furniture?), raising a toddler is TOUGH.
And raising a toddler who just hates going to bed? Even tougher. At the end of a long day of toddler-wrangling, no doubt all you want to do is collapse. But a toddler who hates bedtime isn’t about to let that happen!
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So, how can you help your bedtime-hating toddler learn to love going to sleep? We’ve got 5 easy, practical tips designed to help you do just that!
1. Make sure bedtime is happening at the right time.
That’s right – your toddler may be fighting bedtime simply because it’s happening at the wrong time. This may be the most-overlooked reason for toddler bedtime drama, in my experience. Specifically, I find that my clients tend to try to put their toddlers to bed too early. Remember, older toddlers (2+) need about 6 hours (or more) of afternoon awake time, between when they wake from their nap and bedtime. So if your toddler is up from her nap at 3:30, then pushing a 7 p.m bedtime just isn’t going to work for all toddlers!
Similarly, some parents wait too long to put their toddlers to bed. That can cause overtiredness, which can actually lead to toddlers who fight bedtime. Seems counter-intuitive, I know – you’d think a totally exhausted toddler would drop right into bed, but not so! Toddlers who are overtired are more likely to fight sleep. This is especially problematic in cases where a toddler has just dropped the afternoon nap, and is no longer napping anymore – in the early stages of that transition, it’s best to push an earlier bedtime, to protect against overtiredness.
2. Take a good look at your toddler’s schedule.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. In order to determine whether or not your toddler may be too tired at bedtime – or perhaps not tired enough – take a look at her daily schedule. When is the afternoon nap happening? Is it long enough? It should be at least an hour, in order to be truly restorative.
And what about morning wake-up? If your toddler is waking late in the morning (as nice as that may be for mom and dad!), it will push everything in the schedule later, too – including bedtime. (Of course, some families like a late bedtime, especially families in which one or both parents don’t get home from work until later in the evening. Stick with what works for you.) Early waking can be problematic, too – it shifts everything in the schedule earlier, and creates the need for a bedtime that may be too early to be practical.
3. Create a visual chart that outlines the steps of the bedtime routine.
Toddlers LOVE routine, and knowing what comes next. Capitalize on this by creating a visual representation of the bedtime routine. If your toddler is a budding artist, have him draw a picture for each of the steps (i.e. brush teeth, put on PJs, etc.), and then put the pictures in order on a larger chart. No artist in the family? No problem – one of my consultants had her son cut pictures out of magazines and glue them to his bedtime routine chart.
Creating the chart will help your toddler feel like it’s “his”, and having the bedtime routine steps laid out will help everyone know what is happening when. Plus, having the chart gives you something to “blame” when your toddler wants to skip a step, or spend too long on one part of the routine – you can just point back to the chart!
4. Offer choices whenever possible.
Try to build choices into the bedtime routine whenever it makes sense to do so. Personally, I found this to be SO helpful when my own boys were toddlers! I recommend offering just 2 choices (more can be too overwhelming). Also, be sure that the 2 options you offer are both options that you’re okay with. For example, let your toddler choose between 2 sets of PJs, or two different storybooks, etc. This can help your toddler feel in control of what’s happening at bedtime, which can go a long way towards getting you some bedtime buy-in.
5. Give your toddler an incentive to go to bed without a fuss.
People in general tend to perform best when we have a goal to work towards. So give your toddler something to work for! Consider creating a sticker chart (toddlers tend to love these); each night that your toddler goes through all the steps of the routine without fussing, and stays in bed after lights out, she earns a sticker. Once she has reached some kind of benchmark, like so many stickers in a row, she earns a reward. The reward can be something small (sometimes the stickers are exciting enough for some!), for smaller benchmarks, but you can also offer something bigger, for bigger benchmarks. For example, maybe after a solid 2 or 3 weeks of good bedtime behavior, you take your toddler shopping for cute new sheets, or the family takes a trip to the zoo. Having goals, both big and small, may be just what your toddler needs to cooperate at bedtime.
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Now, these steps won’t fix all toddler bedtime woes. For example, if your toddler struggles with nightmares or night terrors, there are separate steps you’ll want to take to deal with that problem. And it may be that your toddler’s issues aren’t just with bedtime – if your little guy or little gal is waking at night, you will need to address that in a different way. However, these steps offer great, tangible ways to help your toddler have a change of heart regarding bedtime, and to learn to love going to bed (and staying there!).
Tired of night-waking and bedtime drama? Want your toddler to learn how to go to bed with a smile, and sleep all night long, but not sure how to make that happen? We can help! Parents from all over the world visit The Baby Sleep Site® each month to find solutions for their children’s sleep problems. Visit today, and download a copy of our free guide, Toddler Sleep Secrets. You CAN reclaim your sleep…and we can help! And, for a limited time, enjoy our special July Parade promotions, all month long. Save on personalized consultations, membership subscriptions, and e-Books!
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