If you are having bedtime battles with your toddler or preschooler, or they are misbehaving at bedtime, this will help set appropriate limits to have a more peaceful bedtime routine.
My husband had nightly battles with our 4th child.
We’d put him to bed, read some books, chit chat, pray, and then get ready to leave and then… wouldn’t you know it… he’d have to potty.
Somehow his body wouldn’t quite work before bedtime, but would only work after he was supposed to be in bed.
My husband was losing patience and my son was stalling longer and longer. This called for a smart bedtime routine.
How to avoid bedtime battles with your little ones
Here are some examples of bedtime battles waged in the hour or so before bedtime and in the time right after your child *should* be sleeping.
- A child refuses to go to bed.
- The child is afraid to sleep alone and requires your presence to sleep, and then later up on waking.
- There’s constant stalling, asking questions, demanding things, focusing on things they don’t normally care about. (This is NOT to be confused with bedtime anxiety which is different)
- When your child gets out of bed and leaves their room, whether to find you or to hide.
- Crying, whining, meltdowns, and tantrums when you try to put them to bed or leave them in bed.
I’m sure there are more, but this’ll get us started.
If you are sick of the arguing at night, tantrums (from you or your child), and overall resistance to bed then these tips will set you on your way.
Why do kids fight bedtime?
The age old question with, potentially, tons of answers.
They may fight bedtime because they aren’t tired. Or they’re overtired. Because they’d rather spend time with you. Or because they’d rather play.
Kids fight bedtime because they are scared sometimes. Other times because they’d rather not do what you say. Each child will have a different reason to avoid bedtime that makes perfect sense.
So your job is three fold.
- Troubleshooting your current bedtime battle situation.
- Creating a bedtime routine (a baby sample and a toddler one) that is age appropriate.
- Keeping it consistent.
If it’s your baby or toddler fighting sleep, I go into more solutions in my bestselling baby sleep program, Coos To Snooze.
First, determine if it’s a sleep problem or a behavior problem
Your child might be misbehaving at bedtime because of a sleep issue, a behavior issue, or both.
In my infant and child sleep consultant training I learned a whole lot. Trust me when I say you’d be amazed at all the ingenious reasons kids decide they ain’t going to bed.
Sleep problems include:
- Being overtired | When little ones are overtired they are cranky, out of sorts, and resistant.
- Having slept too much | If your toddler or preschooler woke up at 4:45 p.m. from their nap and you’re putting them back down at 7:00 p.m. they may not be tired. If this is the case there’s a higher chance your child will be resistant and have a burst of energy before bed.
- Inappropriate bedtime | There are generally agreed upon bed times that coincide with children’s biological rhythms. If you go much outside those little ones become overtired, overstimulated, or both overtired and overstimulated.
- Sleep props exist | If you are having bedtime battles, it may be because your little one is hooked on you to get to sleep. This requires identifying the sleep props and replacing them with sleep associations. If you don’t want to spend 1.5 hours getting your toddler to sleep only to do it again 4 hours later, this is key.
- Night terrors or night terrors | If your child has a lot of nightmares they may not want to go to bed for fear of the dreams. Read this post on how you can help reduce nightmares.
Daily Routine Brainstorm SHEETS
Get my cheat sheets (newborn up to elementary aged kids) and find your family’s groove. Use them for nap times, meal times, bedtimes, chore times, play times AND more!
Behavior issues include:
- Connection needs | If you work outside the home or are in a particularly busy or unusual time, children often crave more time together. Move bedtime up a bit to make time for connection.
- Your child just doesn’t want to go to bed | Look, bed isn’t as fun as playing. Dig deeper if your child is being particularly defiant. Say What You See® and find out the root of the issue. Then, keep reading for strategies to help you keep the rules.
- They are super wound up and won’t settle down | If your child is overtired or in their second wind, they will not jump in bed ready to sleep without some effort.
- The in and out issue | Some brave kids will really try their desperate mamas. They will get in and out of bed. And then go in and out of their rooms. This will for sure do your head in, read to the bottom for solutions.
Are you trying to put your little one down during their “second wind?”
Sometimes, your toddler or preschooler will get a burst of energy before bed. In my infant and child sleep consulting training I learned about something very interesting called – to paraphrase – the forbidden zone.
A forbidden zone is that time right before normal bedtime when your little one’s biological rhythms keep them wide awake. This is why a routine or schedule works.
You choose a bedtime and keep it consistent.
IF you go much after their typical bedtime – and knowing that sleep before midnight is the most restorative as our sleep hormones are the strongest – your kids can go into their second wind. That’s looks like running around at 11 p.m. like it’s 8 a.m.
Put your kids in bed at a good time before they get overtired and wired.
Specific strategies to avoid bedtime battles, power struggles, and meltdowns
So now let’s get into specific ways you can turn bedtime from a time of power battles and tears into a peaceful time of bonding.
Family Routines Reboot
Take our 3 day challenge to create life-giving family, child, and self-care routines.Learn More
? Start bedtime earlier
If battles are happening and it pushes bedtime back further and further, then start 30 minutes earlier.
- Read bedtime stories
- Brush teeth & potty
- Chit chat or sing
- Turn on white noise (a personal must)
- Kiss and let your little one sleep
If you start earlier, even with a bit of stalling, you’ll still have your little one in bed at a proper hour.
Want your kids to learn to independently follow their routines? These visual routine cards do the trick.Learn More
? Include stalling requests in the routine
One of mine always wants water, to potty, and to have daddy come in and say goodnight. Or if daddy is putting him to bed, he wants me to say goodnight. So we add these to the routine.
Whatever frequent request your child has, give it to them (if it’s appropriate) as part of the routine.
Then set limits.
For example, 3 stories and no more.
? Make your bedtime routine and schedule a WALL
If your child is misbehaving at bedtime, it may be because the rules aren’t clear.
What does it mean to have a Wall?
A wall is a rule that’s set in stone and you aren’t wishy washy about it. You don’t feel guilty enforcing it and aren’t tied up in knots about it.
It just is what it is. The kids recognize Walls and they respect them. Like an actual wall vs a door. When children know they can’t get into a room through a wall, they’ll find a door.
Your rules should be walls.
When you choose a bedtime routine and a time for, stick with it.
It is your job, not your kids, to create healthy appropriate family routines that allow everyone to thrive. Hour long bedtime battles do not do that.
Children need sleep as much as they need food. In fact, children need sleep *more urgently* than they need love and attention and nurture because they’ll still survive without those.
And they won’t without sleep.
Luckily, we can meet our children’s need for sleep AND for love, connection, nurture, attention, and time together. And we can do it all in the bedtime routine. And the enforcement of said routine.
? Set your child up for success
In order to have smooth peaceful bedtimes, we need to take all factors into account. We take into account their stalling requests, their need for connection, and their need for sleep.
Oh, and we take into account our need for some time alone in the evenings. You also need sleep to survive and a quick path to extreme mental illness is not sleeping.
Here’s how you can set your child’s bedtime routine up for success and avoid bedtime battles:
- Choose an appropriate bedtime you can make happen at least 90% of the time. AKA don’t choose an ideal bedtime at a time when you’re not home because of outside commitments.
- Create a calming wind down routine and bedtime routine. Use the routine cards to help get our child on board and following independently.
- Make time within the routine for some connection and attention. If your child is acting out for connection, this will immediately help resolve a lot of behavior issues.
- Create rules with built in consequences for your kids if they don’t go along with the routine. Remember, they *need* sleep, this isn’t like a trip to the park you can take or leave.
- Commit to being consistent with this routine without the guilt or anxiety or angst you’ll feel when your child begins bucking the new rule.
- Give it time and try to remain calm. You don’t have to be a robot, but remember, it’s your job to keep the routine and however they respond… well… let it play out. While it’s playing out, keep your boundaries.
Family Rules Brainstorm SHEETS
Want to start brainstorming some rules that might make your family life more peaceful and secure? These rule sheets will get you there.
Follow all the tips given to help your toddler learn to love bedtime, not fight it. Also, make sure your toddler is actually tired and ready for bed by not allowing late naps or overtiredness which will make him fussy.
That answer is subjective. If you are using a cry it out strategy for bedtime, this should only last a few days and then there shouldn’t be any more crying. If your little one is crying every night, it’s a good idea to dig deeper to find out what’s going on.
2 year olds should typically be in bed by 8 p.m. at the latest and if they haven’t napped well then 7 p.m. is a good time to shoot for.
In short, yes. The most restorative sleep is had before midnight so if a toddler goes to bed at 10:00 p.m. they are only taking advantage of 2 of those hours. Toddlers will become over stimulated and overtired with late bedtimes and their behavior will suffer.