Why Won’t My Toddler Just Go to Bed?

It’s not just you. Many parents have trouble getting their toddlers to go to bed. In fact, a study suggests that over half of three to five-year-olds stall at bedtime. This stalling can happen for many reasons. Maybe your child got a long enough nap in the afternoon that they aren’t tired yet. Maybe your child worries about monsters under the bed no matter how many times you reassure them. Some of the reasons are entirely out of your control, but it’s important to prioritize sleep, for both you and your child.

Why is Bedtime such a Big Deal?

Not getting enough sleep is a terrible cycle. Children who don’t get enough sleep have a harder time regulating their emotions and learning. That means that if your child hasn’t gotten enough sleep, she may be more likely to throw a temper tantrum before going to bed than if she did sleep well the previous night. One bad night begets another.

While parents tend to worry about how much sleep their children get, parental rest does also matter! Get the best sleep you can. If you sleep with a partner, it’s good to have a bed that doesn’t bounce when one of you jumps out of bed to check on your child. With seven to eight hours of sleep, you and your partner are sharper, and it’s easier to pay attention to the warning signs that your child’s getting fatigued and cranky. Most children give signals when they are tired. If you are awake enough to see these signals and respond, bedtime may run a little smoother. Also, if your body isn’t craving sleep like crazy, you can often be more patient and understanding as your toddler screams and wails.

In addition to getting enough sleep, there are a few other steps that you can take to help bedtime be less of a battle.

toddler bedtime

Unplug before Bed

It seems relaxing to watch television before bed, right? Unfortunately, while your body sprawled on the couch is relaxing, your mind is deciding that it’s time to wake up. The blue light from many displays (computer monitors, tablets, and phones) mimics sunlight. Even after the sun sets, your body (and your toddler’s) won’t start producing melatonin, which makes you sleepy, because it hasn’t figured out that it’s nighttime yet. Give your toddler’s brain a clear signal that it’s time to start winding down by eliminating screen time an hour before bed.

Be Consistent but Flexible

Every parent or expert has an opinion on what the “perfect bedtime routine” may be. There will be a formula, such as 20-minute bath, 10 minutes of reading, and one bathroom break before bed. Unfortunately, no kid is a math problem and formulas don’t always work for them. An anxious child may need to visit parents more at night – just for reassurance that the heat kicking on is not a monster under the bed.

The key is to develop a consistent bedtime routine for you and your child. It may be different than what “the experts” recommend, but, hey, if it works… It might also work most nights but not every night. Toddlers go through many developmental changes, so naps might disappear or reappear depending on the day and how much your child has been running around. Consistency is great, but no formula is 100% successful every night.

toddler bedtime

Give Away Prizes

It sounds like a joke, but giving stickers and gold stars for a quiet bedtime is a part of many sleep experts’ toolsets. Verbal praise and visible rewards are a powerful tool. Just be sure to aim small with your goals to start. One bedtime where no one is screaming might be a worth a gold star at first. Then you can extend the goals to three or four uneventful nights in a row.

It may be hard. If it is, you join the 52% of parents that have a child that stalls at bedtime. It’s a big group. Don’t be hard on yourself. With patience and consistency, the bedtime battles will eventually end.



The other (better) half of The Unfit Parent team. Keeping it real, one post at a time. Get in touch. My door is always open 'cause the kids keep opening it. Why won't they leave me alone? Please send help!



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