Why won’t my toddler go to bed?

As you can imagine, when I tell fellow parents what I do for a living, they are usually pretty interested.  And one of the first questions I’m asked, is ‘why won’t my toddler go to bed?’.  Because the fact of the matter is when our children don’t sleep, neither do we!  

I’m not telling you anything new when I say that it’s during toddlerhood that our little bundles of joy start learning about their own will. And more importantly, how to use it! Bedtime battles can easily become the norm when your toddler won’t go to bed as easily as you would like.

And of course, by the time your toddler’s bedtime comes around, everyone’s tired, which can just make things even worse.

Why is bedtime so hard for toddlers?  Well why not read on for my Top 5 Tips for easing bedtime battles, getting your toddler to bed, to help restore a little harmony in your house around bedtime:

Toddler won't go to bed? Sometimes the hysterics are just because they are pushing boundaries.

Give your toddler choices

Let’s face it, no one likes being told what to do all the time.  And toddlers are no different!  This is when they are starting to learn their place in the world and starting to exercise their own free will.  

By giving them (limited!) choices, you’re enabling them to feel like they are in control.  Simple things like ‘Which of these TWO pyjamas would you like to wear tonight?’ or ‘Would you like to brush your teeth or your hair first’?

These might seem like very simple choices, and that’s because they are.  But, it’s giving your toddler some of that much-craved control they’ve been fighting you for.

Give them plenty of warning

When I give my private clients this nugget of advice, I like to use the analogy of a night out.  If you’re on a night out with your friends, having a lovely time.  Then your designated driver suddenly tells you it’s time to go home. You may well kick up a little fuss! Not least because you’ve only just got back from the bar with another round of drinks.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting for one minute you take your toddler out drinking with you. But, hopefully, you can see what I’m getting at.  Even as adults, we don’t like to be torn away from things we’re enjoying doing.  And of course, your toddler is no different.  If they are happily playing, and have just got out another toy to play with (aka a new round of drinks), they aren’t going to be too happy to be pulled away from it.  

Giving a 5-minute warning can work wonders in managing their expectations.  This applies not just to bedtime, but during the day too!  Personally, I like to use technology to my advantage here. I ask ‘Siri’ or ‘Alexa’ to set the timer, so it’s them (not me!) who says it’s time to stop doing what they’re doing and head to bed. 

Stick to a routine

This is an extension of the tip above, to be honest.  As human’s, we’re creatures of habit and naturally like to know what to expect.  And of course, toddlers are no different.  By doing things in exactly the same order each night gives them a sense of security in the bedtime process.  It’s also important if someone else is going to be putting your little one to bed that they stick to the same routine too. This can take the sting out of you not being there especially if they are going through a particularly clingy phase.

Think about daytime sleep

Generally, toddlers drop their naps around 3 years of age (give or take a few months).  If your little one is around this age and still having a nap but taking ages to go to sleep at bedtime, it could be time to pull the plug on their daytime sleep, or at least reduce the amount they’re having. 

If they blatantly still need that nap, it could be worth thinking about the timing of when they sleep during the day.  Ideally, it wants to be pretty much in the middle of their day so they have a roughly equal amount of time awake both before and afterwards.  Anything after about 3 pm for toddlers (regardless of how brief) can play havoc with bedtime (we called them ‘Disaster Naps’ in our house!). This alone could explain why you can’t get your toddler to sleep.  Even 10 – 15 minutes at the wrong time can be enough to perk them up that a 7 pm bedtime becomes 9 pm!

Be consistent when your toddler won’t go to bed!

It’s 7 pm, you’ve potentially been up for 12 – 14 hours and now you’re using negotiating skills the UN would be proud of just to try and get your wee man or little lady to lie down, let alone go to sleep.  And there’s doubtless a million and one other things you could be doing rather than wrestling a drunken octopus into a sleeping bag! Argh!

It’s times like this that it’s really easy to resort to any form of bribery that you think might work just to get them to do as you’re asking.  I get it!  Honestly I do!  I am a huge fan of bribery with my kids.  But actually, changing the way we deal with situations on different days doesn’t help them.

When a toddler pushes a boundary, they expect to receive the same message each and every time. This reinforces they are the child and you are the parent.  When this doesn’t happen, and they receive mixed signals, this confuses them (not that surprisingly).  So they will continue to push the same buttons waiting to see if the situation changes.  If you stay strong (grasshopper) from the start, then they soon learn that that’s just how it is and are more likely to accept it.

Of course, our children are unique, and so is their sleep. So this is by no means an exhaustive list of the problems you might encounter, but hopefully, it’s started to answer the question ‘why won’t my child go to bed’.

Would you like more targeted advice on how to banish the bedtime battles? Why not book your FREE sleep assessment to find out how I can help? Or feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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