How To Manage A Toddler Resisting Bedtime

Does this sound familiar? You made dinner, negotiated with your 3-year-old to take 5 bites in exchange for a cookie. Hustled through your sleep routine which burns you more calories than a Cody Rigsby spin class. You let your toddler pick out another book, sign a lullaby and line up their stuffed animals multiple times. You say goodnight, close the door and finally sit on the couch for the first time in 4 hours and you hear the door open. Insert cringe. 

Toddlers are constantly testing boundaries and as a parent, it is incredibly challenging to navigate, it is a normal, natural phase of being a toddler! Bedtime is a gold mine for toddler boundary pushing and unfortunately, you are the only one that can keep the trains moving forward! 

Requesting another book, needing to go pee, wanting to kiss the dog, needing water, the list goes on and on. Resisting bedtime is extremely common and normal in young children. This can be a time where parents fall back to old habits or create new habits that give into their toddler’s behavior and bedtime can become a 2 hour circus production. Parents need tools to help put your child to bed and limit the bedtime battle! Let’s jump in! 

How To Manage A Toddler Resisting Bedtime

Avoid The Main Causes of Toddler Bedtime Resistance

Toddlers have a lot of developmental milestones that occur between ages ~18 months-4 years old. Toddler sleep regressions can occur when language and physical developments start to increase or when parents transitions crib crib to toddler bed. These changes can make it increasingly harder to put your toddler to bed. Parents aren’t going to sleep train their toddlers but one thing you can control is the process leading up to bedtime. For toddlers and school aged children, winding down and getting mentally and physically prepared for bedtime can take 2 hours for some children. Now don’t worry, you don’t have to go overboard and create a 2-hour bedtime routine but try to be thoughtful and pointed about the activities that your toddler is doing an hour or two before bedtime. Here are some tips to help your toddler with getting ready for the bedtime routine.

Tips for minimizing bedtime resistance for the hyper toddler

Try to create a relaxing environment about an hour before bedtime (this is measured between the beginning of the process and lights out). The hour before it’s time to sleep can directly impact nighttime sleep. No rough-housing or aggressive play at this point, no screen time, and nothing sugary to eat or drink. Your goal is to help prepare your child’s body for a long stretch of sleep. 

Evening snacks can be beneficial for sleep in two ways:

1) It can fill their belly so that they don’t keep waking up during the night. 

2) Depending on what the child eats, it can actually help them sleep through the night! 

Not all snacks are the same, as some can give your child too much energy before bed. Below are examples of nutritious snacks that are proven to naturally help lead to good sleep:

  • Hummus and whole grain crackers
  • Whole grain bread/toast
  • Kiwis
  • Bananas
  • Cherries or tart cherry juice
  • Plain yogurt with granola and/or fresh bananas or cherries (or other fruits)
  • Oatmeal
  • Almonds
  • Low-sugar cereal with milk
  • Pretzels
  • Plain bagel

A word of caution about giving anything with fruit, dairy products, or regular cereal: If you’re going to offer these foods, be aware that there is sugar in these foods that could give your child a sudden boost of energy. You might want to experiment with them first to see if your child has a reaction.

Tips for minimizing bedtime resistance for the playful toddler

Bedtime yoga is wonderful for children who need to calm their bodies a bit before bedtime.

Some children find this to be overly stimulating, while others enjoy this physical activity prior to making their way to the bedroom. Sleepy Little Yoga is one of my favorite books to help calm the body and the mind through yoga. 

For children having a hard time settling their mind and thoughts, you can put on a guided meditation. This would occur the last 10-15 minutes of his routine should take place with him lying in his bed listening to a guided meditation for children. There are lots of free guided meditations on YouTube and you can start with a free trial on Head Space .

They are very relaxing for the brain, which is good for a child that may be feeling a bit of anxiety at bedtime.  Remember, however, that if you choose to listen to these meditations that you’ll want the screen to be dark to avoid any exposure to technology. 

Tips for minimizing bedtime resistance for the playful toddler

Deep Breathing 

Deep breathing is a powerfully relaxing exercise that kids and adults of all ages can utilize to relax and get ready for sleep. You can make this a part of your nightly routine by doing the following:

  1. Tell your child to pretend that you just baked his favorite flavor of cake (you can use a pretend cake or draw one for a visual).
  2. Ask him to smell the cake (he should breathe in deeply through his nose).
  3. You will count to 3.
  4. Then you’ll direct him to blow out all of the candles on his cake (he should pretend to do so)!
  5. Do this with him 3x.

Exercise can be super helpful for your child to get a good night’s sleep!

The more physically active he is throughout the day, the better he’ll sleep at night. When the body has been stressed like that, it will automatically attempt to recover from this stress by producing more deep sleep than usual that night. Exercise also improves your child’s mood and helps to reduce stress, anxiety, or tension.

“Exercising” simply means being physically active. For your child that might mean riding a trike, dancing, running, skipping, jumping, playing at the park, swimming, or playing in the snow. For days that you can’t get outside try dancing, playing tag, doing some jumping jacks, or games like “Simon Says” (where he can copy your moves).

As long as your child does at least 20-30 minutes worth of physical activity during the day, he’ll be more tired at night. Just try to avoid exercising too close to bed, as it will raise his body temperature, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Quiet or calming activities are better suited before bed, if possible.

Tips for minimizing bedtime resistance for the toddler who loves screens

Screen time is scientifically proven to delay the onset of sleep in that it exposes the retina to blue light and delays the onset of melatonin production. This can cause both children and adults to struggle with falling and staying asleep. Therefore, you’ll want to avoid any sort of electronic time at least 60 minutes before bed. Instead, I would encourage your child to have quiet play activities, such as coloring, drawing, puzzles, legos, crafts, imaginary play, dress up, etc.

Make Sure You Have A Consistent Toddler Bedtime 

Having a bedtime routine with a clear, consistent series of events is critical for toddlers to help them learn that it’s time for sleep and provide you less stress leaving the room. This will help minimize bedtime resistance. Be consistent About 30 minutes before bed, start with the bedtime routine. For this age, I’d recommend something similar to the following sequence:

  • Bath (on bath nights)
  • Bathroom (if potty trained) or change into diaper
  • Brush teeth 
  • Change into pajamas
  • Let your toddler pick 2 or 3 books (giving him options will help give him a sense of power throughout the routine, but limiting the options also establishes the boundaries)
  • Sing a song
  • Turn on white noise machine
  • Shut off light
  • Lay into toddler bed, say goodnight, I love you
  • Close the bedroom door and leave

Tips for minimizing bedtime resistance for the toddler who expresses a fear

Given that we may be dealing with some fears and anxieties in the night, I’d recommend you check out any of the following books and read them to your child if need be, these books cover a variety of fears including being afraid of the dark which is a common fear!

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears

Mikey and the Dragons

Orion and the Dark

When I Feel Scared

Scaredy Squirrel at Night

Feel like you’ve tried all of this and are still having bedtime problems? Dreaming of a child you stays in bed all night? Or maybe you need someone to help implement it and coach you along the way! Learn more about our sleep support services on our website or on our instagram @sleep.shore 

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