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Toddler Tantrums At Bedtime

bedtime blog toddler
toddler bedtime with mom

It is no secret that most toddlers would rather play than go to bed. If you have the rare unicorn of a child who sweetly tugs on your sleeve and asks to go to bed then, embrace it! This post about ending toddler tantrums at bedtime is for the rest of us with toddlers who find a gazillion ways to prolong bedtime.

Why Toddler Bedtimes Are Hard

Toddlers are busy little people. Part of their job as toddlers is to test boundaries and limits. Another part of their job is to practice asserting their independence. 

They are also energetic, imaginative, creative, and love to play. Combine all of that and you get the recipe for bedtime battles. Playing is more fun than sleeping, even if they are desperately tired! Also, overtired toddlers are much more likely to meltdown in the evening than rested ones. But even rested toddlers will still press the bedtime limits occasionally. 

The important thing to remember is that YOU are in charge, not your toddler. You set the boundaries and it is your job to show your toddler what they are and that they are real not just fictional.

So, how can you beat the bedtime battles and restore peace?

Anticipate Your Toddler's Needs

Toddlers are infamous for needing all.the.things. at bedtime. So, work the frequent requests into your routine!

The beauty of doing this is two-fold: your toddler gets his or her needs met and you get to uphold the consistency of your bedtime routine.

So, if your toddler always needs "one more sip" of water, build a last drink into your routine or give them a sippy of water in their bed. 

If your child always wants to say good night to your pets, make that a normal part of your routine not a last minute add-on.

The potty is a big one here. If your toddler is toilet trained, you have probably heard "but I need to go potty!" right when you try to leave your child's room. Potty at the beginning of your child's bedtime routine and then again at the very end. Making it part of the routine takes the drama and potential power struggle out of it.

Whatever your child's most consistent last minute "I need" requests are, find a way to build them into your bedtime routine assuming they are reasonable requests.

Give Choices When Reasonable

Somethings aren't negotiable, like going potty or brushing teeth. Other things can be quite negotiable, like wearing the red pajamas or the blue pajamas. 

Set your toddler up for bedtime success by giving choices when you can. This allows them to assert their independence while still following the boundaries you have set.

Here's an example: the boundary is wearing pajamas to bed. The choice is which pajamas, out of two parent-approved choices, does your toddler choose.

You can offer a choice of bedtime stories, a choice of which cheek you kiss, a choice of which stuffy they take to bed, the possibilities are endless!

Also, as parents it is also important to make sure our "must have" boundaries are reasonable. Brushing teeth, is a good example of a firm boundary that is both reasonable and necessary.

Wearing pajamas to bed is an example of a boundary that can be flexible. Sure, most kids wear pajamas but if your little one prefers shorts and a real t-shirt and always fusses about putting on pajamas, it 100% fine to ditch your pajama rule. Making the shorts and t-shirt your child's go-to bedtime apparel would go a long ways towards stopping the tantrums in this case.

As parents, it is important we stop periodically and re-evaluate our boundaries. Are they still reasonable? Do they still work for our family? Is there something that would work better?

Keep The Bedtime Routine Consistent

No matter how many requests you build into your toddler's bedtime routine, he or she will still push the limits at times. This can be frustrating, but remember to take deep breaths and remember that limit testing is a normal part of toddler development.

The important part is that you are able to differentiate between real needs and limit testing. 

I tell the families I work with that being consistent does not mean you never say 'yes' to one more story or one more song. Being consistent means that you say "no, we read our story and now it is time for sleep" on nights when your child is merely pushing the limits. On the flip side, you do read the extra story or give extra snuggles on a night when your child is showing they need that extra time to connect.

It is all about reading your child and meeting the need of the night. Most nights it will be for consistency, but some nights it will be for connection.

As you start to be firm with your bedtime routine boundaries, your child will continue to test them occasionally; to see if you are still going to enforce them. The beautiful thing is that you will see your child start to accept the boundaries and happily move on when they see there is consistency.

Toddlers thrive on routine, and boundaries are a huge part of giving them that predictable consistency they crave.

Set Your Toddler Up for Bedtime Success

Stopping toddler tantrums at bedtime starts during the daytime. When children are overtired, they are more likely to be fussy or have meltdowns.  Per the National Sleep Foundation, from age 1-2, children need 11-14 hours of sleep per 24 hours. Children age 3-5 need 10-13 hours of sleep per 24 hours.

You know your toddler is getting enough sleep if he or she falls asleep within 10-15 minutes at bedtime, is generally happy when waking in the morning, and is able to make it from nap to bedtime without falling apart (or from waking for the day to bedtime if no longer napping).

If your toddler is not getting enough sleep, sometimes making some simple schedule tweaks will do wonders for banishing the bedtime battles.

Use Cues For A Smooth Transition

Give your toddler a warning that bedtime is coming. Imagine you are sitting on your couch, mindlessly scrolling instagram or reading a book and then someone walks in the room, takes your book away and tells you to go to bed. You wouldn't be happy, right?

That is how your toddler feels when we take them from play to getting ready for bed without warning. 

Remember, toddlers do not have the same concept of time that we do. Saying "you have 5 more minutes" is meaningless. Instead, try something such as "you can draw two more pictures and then it is time for bed" or "you can have 3 more turns and then it is time for bed". That frames the transition in a way your child understands. 

Some families have success with a visual cue such as a sand timer (Note: some children thrive with timers and others become anxious. Only use if it helps your child).

There is no one right way to do transitions. You can experiment with a few to see what your child responds to best.

Wrap Up

Toddler tantrums at bedtime can be challenging. While they are partly a normal part of toddler development, the good news is there are steps you can take to minimize them.

- Anticipate your toddler's needs and work them into the bedtime routine

- Potty at the beginning and the end of the bedtime routine

- Have a consistent bedtime routine from night to night. 

- Make sure your toddler is getting enough sleep

- Use cues to set up a smooth transition

When you pull those out of your sleep tool box, you will slowly but surely start to see peace return at your toddler's bedtime.

Did you find this helpful? Share on social and help your friends bring peace back to bedtime!

Bedtimes aren't the only tricky part about toddler sleep. Check this post out for tips on dealing with toddler night wakings...especially if your toddler used to sleep like a rock. 



Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.

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