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Bedtime Battles

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

Ugh, the evening slog to bedtime! Bedtime battles are pretty much a rite of passage for both toddlers and parents. 

Cue frustrated, exasperated, stressful sleepy times!

I can imagine that you’ve attempted many, many things to achieve a calmer, happier settle to sleep, but it’s probably been more of a “give an inch, they’re taking a mile” situation.

Before we get to my top tips for making bedtimes far more delightful, it’s important to get our parenting mindset in the right place.

The human brain is not fully developed until they are in their twenties. So, while we think “they should do better”, they really won’t consistently – not yet.

Most of our frustrations come from having ridiculously high expectations on our tot’s behaviour AND not having the tools we need to support positive change.

So, if we can reframe bedtime battles where we think our toddler is out to give us a hard time, instead we pretty much need to give ourselves an epic pep talk because we are far more likely to be successful in our settles if we are cool, calm and collected.

We, as the parents, need to understand that this is the last bit of connection time they have with us, that they are learning, that they need our help, that separation at the end of the day can feel really hard.

Your tot needs your loving support and kind boundaries to feel that security and safety. They need to know that my person has got me and is here to help me, even if my behaviour is a little out of control.

Let’s get to it, what can reinforce bedtime battles and what can we do instead?

Too Much Screen Time 

I’m sorry to say it and I hear you when you groan “no, anything but this…”

I get it, the last part of the day is usually the time we need our kids to be quiet and the TV is what we use to achieve this.

BUT, screen time is linked to behavioural and health issues in our children.

Watching too much of it, or watching close to bedtime can impact the ability for your tot to fall asleep comfortably.

It can also reinforce overnight waking, from nightmares.

I recommend having screen time completely off and away at least 2 hours prior to bedtime, this allows the body to begin the production of melatonin (the sleepy hormone).

Instead of TV time, create some Bedtime Boxes where your toddler has access to relaxing and engaging activities (definitely switch them up often). Bonus points if you can keep these activities just for quiet bedtime play, this will help to increase engagement levels as they don’t have access to these items at any other time.

This is also a great time to have connection time, chat about the day they’ve had and what exciting things are to come! You might even like to say some affirmations together. Topping up their love cup at the end of the day will help with the separation at bedtime.

To Nap or Not to Nap?

Another one you probably don’t want to hear; this transition can be a doozy!

The last nap can hang around longer than it’s needed, meaning you have a very under-tired toddler who just ain’t keen on that bedtime.

Too much day sleep will begin to rob night sleep and we need that sleep at the beginning of the night. Sleep prior to midnight is most restorative so an early bedtime is goals for development.

Anytime between 2.5 and 3-years-old your toddler is likely to drop the nap, keeping it longer than this or offering it too late in the day will reinforce these bedtime battles.

I recommend capping the nap before dropping it altogether.

Generally, a 2-hour nap is needed from around 18-months old.

By the time your toddler is 2.5-years-old you may find the nap needs capping to 90 minutes and then maybe to 60 minutes before dropping it altogether.

I’d also ensure that nap is not going any later in the day than 2.30pm, if you’re wanting a bedtime around 7.00pm.

When it’s time to drop the nap, replace it with rest time. Our little ones definitely still need good rest through the day.

Rough ‘n’ tumbles and Overstimulation

Yea, Dads are usually great with the timing of this aren’t they!

As much as we love watching this, it may be worth doing this type of play before dinner instead.

Overstimulation too close to bedtime is going to make it infinitely more difficult to settle your toddler to sleep.

Bedtime Wind-Downs are worth their weight in gold, at any age!

So instead of the rough-housing, create a consistent and calming wind-down routine.

This might include a bath, reading, playing with Duplo, puzzles, singing some songs, listening to an audiobook and having the lights dimmed down.

The list is endless and you can literally do what works for your family with this. Tweak the length of time, the activities until you are finding something that is fairly consistent and predictable for your toddler.

Toddlers love routine, so use that to your advantage!

Stalling tactics

Yep, those loving limits likely need a bit of a shake up!

Toddlers love exploring their independence and new-found autonomy and while we love this for their development, it will increase difficulties at bedtime.

When we consistently give in to the demands, we can see it reinforce the behaviour and then escalate each time thereafter.

Unless these things are working for you, I’d recommend figuring out what boundaries you want to set at bedtime and begin working on them.

Create some bedtime rules, what do you want your toddler to do at bedtime?

Stay in bed?

Close their eyes?

Be super quiet?

Cuddle their lovey?

Tell your tot what you want them to DO, rather than what you want them to stop doing – you’ll have far more success with this.

Another great strategy is allowing choice-making within the limits you set e.g. do you want to do teeth or toilet first? These are non-negotiable but the order doesn’t matter right? You are allowing some independence and ensuring the stalling doesn’t go on and on.

Nightmares or fear of the dark

This is very common for 2.5-year-olds and above. Imagination begins to form and it all starts happening so this is a great time to be very mindful of what they are watching during screen time.

It’s always important to reassure your child they are safe and you are never too far away. You might need to chat about what is worrying them and help provide a story around it so the brain can make sense of it and their nervous system can relax.

I’d recommend grabbing a dull warm-coloured night light (red or orange) and leaving this on overnight. Leaving the door ajar will help your toddler feel connected to the home too.

A lovey or comforter is also essential! Having an attachment to something, in addition to Mum or Dad, helps with those settles and re-settles.

If you have tried everything and are still struggling with bedtime battles fill in my sleep form and I will be in touch with the best way we can work together to achieve your goals.

My Sleep-Soundly Approach is the most supportive and feel-good way to become confident with your little ones sleep (and yes, they’ll sleep!)

Courtney Nightingale – Parenting, Behaviour & Sleep Specialist

I help parents who have no idea where to start become confident, decisive and Feel-Good about Parenthood!

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