Is your toddler fighting bedtime? Do you experience meltdowns, tantrums, or an adverse reaction from your little one when you start to get them ready for bed? This can be frustrating for not only your toddler but also you as a parent.
Once dinner is finished, most of us are ready to wind down for the night, and it is completely normal to want the bedtime process to be as smooth as possible. As a parent and certified sleep consultant, I get it. You have been parenting all day and are ready for some much needed rest! If that time of night is hard for you and your little one, here are my top tips for tackling bedtime resistance from your toddler, plus some products I recommend to help:
Give Advanced Warning and Transitional Assistance
The first step in making the bedtime process easier is giving an advanced warning of what is going to happen next. I prefer a warning instead of springing upon the next step in the routine. For instance, if your toddler spends some time playing after dinner, I recommend setting a five-minute visual timer before starting the bedtime routine and explaining to your child that once the timer is up, you will be starting the first step in their routine (bath, pajamas, etc.).
Once the timer goes off, I would show your toddler that the five minutes is up and tell them the next step (i.e. “Now we are going to go take a bath.”). If at that point your toddler becomes frustrated or resists moving to the bath, I would use some transitional assistance tactics. A great example of this is saying, “It is time to take a bath, would you like to walk up the stairs or do you want a piggyback ride?” This allows your child to decide how they are getting up the stairs, and more times than not, they’ll diffuse any resistance you are experiencing. This can be used at any point in the routine where you are met with hesitation to move to the next step. Try it—it works wonderfully!
Use Bedtime Rules and Routine Visual Charts
The next tip I recommend is creating a visual representation of the bedtime routine steps and outlining some simple sleep rules. This is applicable to toddlers 2.5 years and older and will include not only steps but ideally also a visual picture as well. Let your little one be involved in the process of making the charts. If they want to decorate with stickers or color on it, I would encourage them to do so. This will help them have ownership in the process. Hang the charts in their room or a location where you start the bedtime routine.
Once your toddler is ready to start the bedtime routine, review the steps on the chart with your child and read the sleep rules out loud. This is a great reminder for them every night and will outline what is going to happen next each night.
Provide Limited Choice
Bedtime is something that is very much out of your toddler’s control, so it is really important to implement ways to have them feel like they are in control. This is where limited choice comes into play.
Limited choice is allowing your toddler to choose between two options. The reason I recommend keeping it limited to two options during the toddler years is because more times than not, they will become overwhelmed if presented with a plethora of choices. Some examples of limited choice within the bedtime routine include laying out two pairs of pajamas, choosing between two toothbrushes, or choosing from two different stories to read.
Implement an Age-Appropriate Bedtime
The last tip in eliminating toddler bedtime resistance is making sure your little one is not overtired at bedtime. If this is the case, they are more likely to become agitated, be hyperactive, or experience tantrums. Your toddler aged 2 years and older needs 11 to 13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, so calculating an appropriate bedtime based on your little one’s morning wake time is essential. Most toddlers do well with a bedtime between 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.