Toddler Bedtime Battles
You've been out of the sleep-deprived infant stage for a year or so now, and you finally feel like you've got a handle on this sleep business with your toddler. They go to bed without a fuss, and you don't tend to hear from them until the morning, amazing!
But shortly down the track, somehow you find yourself in a place where bedtime is taking hours and you wonder how you ended up here...
Toddlers develop language at a rather alarming rate, and we often delight in their newfound phrases or requests - think "'nother story?" and "one more cuddle". They are also master procrastinators! There's always something else they need to potter around doing before bedtime. Our blog on boundaries is a great read if you're struggling with this. But the thing I think we all find most challenging is when our children become upset at bedtime, and when they're emotional it can be tough to figure out what the actual issue is.
Here's a bit of a checklist I have used with my own children, and with many sleep clients to help pinpoint what they need.
- Are they overtired? If they're no longer napping, is their bedtime simply too late? Did they just have a really big day and did they need an earlier bedtime to compensate? Overtired toddlers can present in several ways - hyperactive and definitely "not" ready for bed, or delicate and emotional, or bordering on hysterical.
- Are they undertired? Do they need their nap reduced or eliminated? Do they need a later bedtime? Are they sleeping in in the morning, and therefore not ready for bed until later in the evening?
- Do they need a longer transition to feel ready for bed? Try extending their wind-down period to help them be calm and in the right headspace for bedtime. Introduce some quiet play time in their room, away from the stimulation of the rest of the household - building duplo/lego, puzzles, lift the flap books etc.
- Are they starting to develop their imagination and feeling a wee bit unsettled in their dark bedroom? Do they need a nightlight? This is very common around 2 years of age+. Read this blog if you suspect this is part of the issue!
- Would they prefer their door left open for sleep rather than shut? This is also a very normal developmental phase, as having the door closed can make your toddler feel totally separate from the rest of the house. My preference is to leave the door open a crack - but this isn't up for negotiation with your toddler! You set the 'openness'. If you are worried about fire safety, ensure you have working smoke alarms throughout your home, and if you're concerned about your toddler then being able to freely roam the house (if they aren't able to open the door themselves) a Houdini Door Stop or a baby gate installed across the doorway will prevent this from happening.
- Have they had their cup filled during the day? If your toddler has been at kindy or daycare for the day, they've possibly been rushed out the door in the morning, then upon getting home, plonked in front of the TV or asked to go and play while you get dinner ready. There is absolutely no judgement here! This is how it often goes in our house... but knowing how to manage our busy lives whilst still giving our toddlers the interactions they need for a smooth bedtime is key.
- Be fully present with them during their wind-down period - phone left in the kitchen, if they have a sibling, keep them out of the room.
- Ask them questions about their day -
- What was your favourite part of today?
- What's something that made you feel excited today?
- What's something that made you feel sad/angry today?
- Tell me something you did that was kind/helped someone else
- Who did you enjoy playing with today?
- What games did you play, could you teach me how to play that one?
- Give them some choice to help them feel in control, but make it a limited choice option eg would you like to build a track with the Hot Wheels, or do a puzzle together? Giving them total free rein with what they'd like to do can feel overwhelming!
Bedtime doesn't have to take hours or be the most frustrating part of your day, try putting a few of these things into action and see how enjoyable it can actually be! As always, reach out if you feel like you've tried it all and need a plan and some support.