Are you struggling with nightly toddler bedtime tantrums, making bedtime a battle each night? Use these strategies to help tame your toddler’s bedtime tantrums so you can actually look forward to bedtime!
Bedtime tantrums, stall tactics, constant requests—toddler’s have a way of fighting bedtime each night making bedtime a battle and leaving parents frustrated and exhausted!
Part of the reason toddler bedtime tantrums happen are due to the 2 year sleep regression or 3 year sleep regression. And part of it is because toddlers are so good at pushing boundaries and seeing exactly what they can get away with.
If your toddler is hysterical at bedtime or protesting bedtime consistently, make sure to stay firm in your boundaries. As tough as it is, it’s better for your toddler in the long run if you say what you mean and mean what you say when it comes to bedtime.
Grab my Toddler Sleep Training Guide to help you with your toddler’s sleep! Get your toddler out of your bed and into their own using the most effective sleep training techniques for toddlers and big kids. This guide also includes tons of tips and tricks for tackling toddler’s sleep! Get it here.
How Do I Get my Toddler to Calm Down in Bed?
Follow these tips to help reduce your toddler’s bedtime tantrums and make bedtime a calm and fun routine. (It is possible!) When you have a good bedtime routine in place and appropriate boundaries, everyone can enjoy bedtime so much more!
1. Start During the Day
If your toddler has nightly tantrums at bedtime, there’s usually more going on than just a resistance to sleep.
Check your toddler’s schedule to make sure he is getting the appropriate amount of sleep for his age. A sample two-year old schedule includes one nap in the middle of the day, lasting approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. You can also see a sample three year old schedule here.
If your toddler is on a nap strike, make sure to bring bedtime up by about 30 to 60 minutes to prevent overtiredness.
If your toddler is overtired or under tired at bedtime, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
2. Incorporate Special One-on-One Time Each Day
Often toddlers will seek attention at bedtime (or in the middle of the night) if they don’t feel like they got enough attention during the day.
You can combat this by carving out 10 to 15 minutes each day of special one-on-one attention each day. Let your child choose the activities that you do during this time and keep the interaction positive.
Try to refrain from discipline or correction during this time. Make sure to also stay fully present with your child for these 10 minutes. No cell phones, washing dishes, or folding laundry.
You can name this time together something specific and carve out time for it each day. Your child will probably start to ask if for each day and look forward to your special time together. Implementing this special time can really help reduce toddler bedtime battles.
3. Limit Screen Time
Too much screen time during the day and too much screen time close to bedtime can affect your child’s ability to fall asleep. The blue lights from electronic devices can suppress melatonin and delay sleep.
To combat this, limit screen time to 1 hour a day and cut off all screen time at least 2 hours before bedtime.
4. Have a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Doing the same set of activities each night will help your toddler follow the bedtime routine more easily. When they know what to expect, they tend to be more cooperative. Choose 3 to 5 activities and do them in the same order each night.
You can include things like taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading two books, putting on your toddler’s sleep sack, and snuggles.
Your toddler will eventually have the bedtime routine memorized and be able to anticipate what is coming next. Consistency and predictability can go a long way in helping reduce those bedtime battles!
5. Have a Visual for your Routine
Use a visual chart or bedtime routine cards to show your toddler the steps of your bedtime routine and what comes next. There are tons of cute bedtime routine charts and you can even buy customized ones with your child’s name on it.
You can also get your toddler involved and create your own bedtime chart together.
Seeing the visual of the routine can help keep your toddler on task. If they start to get distracted, have them look at the chart and see what the next activity for bedtime is.
6. Offer Choices
Toddlers love having autonomy and feeling in control. Give them small choices throughout the bedtime routine to help them feel this sense of control. Limit your options to two choices so you don’t overwhelm them. Some examples include:
- Do you want to wear the truck pajamas or the dinosaur pajamas?
- Do you want to read the car book or the farm book?
- Do you want to sit on my lap while we read or sit next to me?
It may seem silly, but giving your toddler simple choices can help reduce power struggles and toddler bedtime resistance.
7. Use an Okay to Wake Clock
Toddlers have no concept of time. We know bedtime is at 7:30 pm, but they have no clue what or when that is. You can use a visual light such as the Hatch Rest to show your toddler when the bedtime routine begins and when it’s time to wake in for morning.
Pick a color (or better yet, let your toddler pick the color) that cues everyone that it’s time to start the bedtime routine. This way the light is the “bad guy” telling everyone it’s time to start the bedtime routine and not mom or dad.
Turn the light red or orange for bedtime and then have a wake up color that appears when it’s time for your toddler to wake up for the day and come out of their room.
8. Use a Bedtime Pass
Is your toddler a master at stall tactics? Do they get out of bed asking for one more drink, one more trip to the bathroom, or one more snuggle?
Give them a bedtime pass and tell them they are allowed to use it for one final request after bedtime. Once they use it, they have to surrender their bedtime pass and stay in bed the rest of the night. This strategy worked really well for us when my daughter went through a 4 year old sleep regression.
You can also incentivize them with a reward if they still have their bedtime pass in the morning and never used it. You can create a sticker chart where they get a sticker each time they wake up with the bedtime pass and after so many stickers they get a new toy or fun activity.
Giving toddlers a bedtime pass gives them some control of when they get out of bed while limiting them to how often it happens.
9. Use A Sleep Training Method
If your toddler continues to protest bedtime and have tantrums, you can implement a sleep training method. At this age, the Sleep Lady Shuffle or Reverse Sleep Wave are your best bets. Both methods are good for toddlers who have sudden separation anxiety at bedtime and can help them fall asleep on their own, with some parental presence.
10. Be Consistent
Toddlers need you to be wildly consistent so they fully understand the boundaries and expectations. If you say one thing and then cave, you’re sending them a really mixed message and their behavior won’t change.
Talk to your toddler about the new bedtime routine and how you’re going to respond if they have a hard time going to sleep and then stick with it. Keep them on task during the bedtime routine and focused on their visual chart.
When they get out of bed or throw a tantrum, respond with your sleep training technique and remain consistent. The more consistent you are, the quicker you’ll get results.
Stay strong implementing these techniques. If you’re consistent, you should see reduced bedtime tantrums within 1 to 3 weeks!