Toddler days can be filled with lots of ups and downs and each day can bring something new and different. They are learning and growing and each day can present a new set of highs and lows. What was once a peaceful bedtime routine can over time, turn into a 2-hour process filled with all sorts of random requests. “I want another drink”, “Can I have another hug”, and “this stuffed animal needs to be here and not there”. There is no one with a longer to-do list than a toddler at bedtime!
It’s so easy to wake up one day and not quite understand how you got here and most importantly how to bring back the boundaries and make bedtime peaceful (and shorter) again! Many times your routine just needs some tweaks and clear expectations need to be reestablished.
Here are some of the common complaints I hear from families-
My toddler is wound up at bedtime and won’t go to sleep unless we lay with him
If your toddler is wound up here are a few possibilities as to why
- Are they overtired- Did a nap get dropped and bedtime didn’t get moved earlier? Bedtime may need to be closer to 6- 630 for a season until their body adjusts to no nap.
- Have they had screen time within 2 hours prior to bedtime? Screens emit blue light which inhibits melatonin production. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that we need to go to sleep and stay asleep.
- Have they had enough outdoor play or indoor roughhousing play? Burning off energy is a must in order for your kiddo to be tired by bedtime.
- Is their naptime simply too long or too late in the day? Toddlers typically need a wake time of 5-6 hours before bed. Capping their nap might need to happen.
- What are they eating at Dinner? Processed foods and high sugar foods, especially if they have food dye can create hyperactivity in kids. Make sure your kids are getting high-quality protein, complex carbs, and good fats for dinner.
My toddler stalls at bedtime
- Are time boundaries clear? Using a timer, I like this one https://amzn.to/3lKfmsX or using The Hatch Baby Rest https://amzn.to/3mdNFZz to make it clear when the routine starts and ends can make a huge difference in making the boundary clear. You still have to follow through, but the timer or light can be a great visual tool for your toddler.
- Has your toddler had enough connection time? Toddlers need to have their emotional tanks full when going to bed otherwise they will most definitely be using all sorts of attention-seeking behaviors to get you to stay just a little bit longer. Spending one on one time connecting during the day and before bed can be a huge help in making sure your toddler feels secure and filled up emotionally.
- Are you clear with boundaries during the day? If not, don’t expect your child to not push against the boundaries at bedtime. Being clear with boundaries needs to happen throughout the day, not just before bed.
My toddler won’t stay in their bed
Did you move your toddler to a bed too early? If they are younger than 3 years old and in a bed, you have a few options.
- Option 1. Move them back into their crib. There is no harm in going backward if the bed is just too much physical freedom. Most 2-year-olds do not have the self-control to stay in bed. Go back to the crib until they are developmentally ready.
- Option 2. If your child is 3 or older you can either walk them back to their room over and over with no talking and no eye contact. This can be laborious so be prepared with lots of patience. If you have an easier child this method will work as long as you are consistent. If you have a stronger willed move to option 3.
- Option 3. I am a big proponent of keeping the door closed during sleep times BEFORE your child moves out of the crib. Here’s why… That door is going to become the new physical boundary once the crib is gone. Having access to the entire house while everyone is sleeping can be a safety Issue once your child is out of the crib. Keeping the door closed gives your child the physical boundary he needs to feel safe and secure. If that still doesn’t work to keep your child in their bed then putting a gate at the door or locking the door are your next options. The room now becomes the crib and your child is being kept safe in their sleeping environment. Once a child knows he can’t just walk out of the room at will, he feels safe and secure just like when he was in the crib. You may need to remove lightbulbs or put duct tape over the light switch so they can’t turn on the lights.
Here are some ways to be proactive with your bedtime Routine to help avoid bedtime becoming a 2-hour process.
- Using a bedtime chart that your toddler can check off as he goes can be helpful. Toddlers like visual tools and they like to know what comes next.
- Build a “last Request” into the routine. So if the routine is 20 minutes, use the last 2-3 min for those last asks. This way you and your toddler are both mentally prepared.
- If you’re using the hatch baby rest as a tool, you can use the lights to signal what phase of the bedtime routine you’re on. You can start the bedtime routine with the green light on, then when it’s the last call you can turn the yellow light on, and then when the routine is over and its lights out the light goes off. Then set the light for wake-up time in the morning.
- You can also use a toddler clock instead of the lights. This is a good one https://amzn.to/3mfcTXC. This helps your toddler to know when it’s sleep time and when it’s time to get up. This helps to set a boundary around sleep times. You can’t make your toddler sleep but you can control what times they are required to be in their bed. This allows you to get up in the morning and have time to yourself before your kiddos are up. Even if they wake up earlier the clock tells them that it’s not time to get up yet. This gives you peace of mind about how your mornings gonna go and allows you to shower, work out, have your coffee or do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself for the day.
- Make sure to give lots of praise in the morning to a child who stays in their bed all night. Your child having the ability to self-regulate and stay in bed is a developmental milestone that you want to celebrate!
- Doing a massage with essential oils or any oil of your choice can be very relaxing for toddlers and help bring down cortisol levels. Physical touch coupled with some lavender essential oil can work wonders for relaxing your toddler.
- Winding down your house in the hour before bedtime is also extremely helpful in setting the stage for sleep. Turning lights low, avoiding screens, and playing some calming music can all be sleep cues for your toddler. This also helps melatonin levels to rise as the lights get lowered.
- Last but not least, check YOUR energy. Your energy sets the tone for bedtime so if you’re feeling anxious, frazzled, or like you’re dreading the bedtime routine your kids will pick up on that and will push even more. Take some deep breaths and calm yourself before the routine starts. One thing I see all the time is that I will get off the phone with a parent and they have a whole new level of confidence in their parenting. That confidence makes their kids feel more secure because they sense that mom and dad are confident in their decisions and that someone is now in control. This energy shift is a game-changer and kids stop pushing the boundaries. This in turn gives parents the confidence to be the strong parent they need to be because they see that their kids thrive when they sense that mom and dad are in control! Being a calm, firm parent is exactly what your toddler needs to be their best!
I hope these tips were valuable and that you feel more confident in implementing these changes into your bedtime routine. Remember consistency brings a feeling of safety and security to your kiddos. Even though they may push against the boundary simply because it’s there, ultimately they want you to be the parent and be unafraid to hold the strong boundaries that bring peace to your toddler and to your entire home.
If you have questions, or any of this feels overwhelming to you please don’t hesitate to reach out for help! I love helping parents get back on track. Sometimes just knowing you have a sleep coach in your corner gives you the confidence you need to make those necessary changes!