Nightly struggles with a bed-resistant toddler can be extremely frustrating for a parent, especially when you’d love nothing more than to doze off into dreamland yourself! Thankfully Circle of Moms members have shared great suggestions for mastering smooth, hassle-free bedtime routine for toddlers.
1. Establish a Simple, Consistent Routine
Numerous Circle of Moms members emphasized that setting a consistent bedtime routine is absolutely essential. Lisa M. explains: “The thing that seems to work best with our son is routine...Do the same three things before bed every single night... brush their teeth, read a book, say a prayer (or sing a song)...You can incorporate other things as they get older like sitting on the potty after brushing their teeth or a bath before it all...but as long as there are a few constant signals it kinda prepares them.”
2. Avoid Overtiredness
Being extra tired actually makes it difficult for toddlers to fall asleep. As a result, setting an earlier bedtime may speed up the getting-to-sleep process. Mother-of-two Tara O. found transitioning to an earlier bedtime was difficult at first, but ultimately eliminated her bedtime troubles: “It took about a week (and some tears on his and our part) but after that he had no problem going to sleep on his own…They are now 2 and 4 years old and go to bed at 6:30 and 7:30 respectively and sleep all the way through and still take naps during the day. They even ask to go to bed sometimes.”
3. Offer Choices
Although you should avoid negotiations at bedtime, letting your toddler make some decisions can be helpful, as Circle of Moms member Gemma found from her toddler’s experiences: “Give her options during her bedtime routine: which PJ's does she want to wear, which story does she want to read (pick 2 for her to choose from). This gives her the illusion of control and she is less likely to fight on other things.” Stacey D. agrees: “I use a sound machine and let her pick the one she wants to hear. I let her choose the book she wants me to read. I let her choose the night clothes she wants to wear. Fan on or off? I give her options and she seems to really dig that."
4. Address Fears
Dark rooms, scary dreams, monsters under the bed…nighttime fears are very common in toddlers. Many moms suggest using a nightlight, while moms like Miranda L. advise additional light sources: “A small kid-friendly flashlight (obviously a fairly dim one) might be worth trying. My son is 4 now and I let him keep a little lantern by his bed (battery operated, uses a tiny low watt bulb). For him it's a security thing, and after he goes to sleep I turn off the lantern and leave the nightlight on. He loves it!! And it worked like a charm to keep him in bed.” Other moms suggested reassuring your child that you are nearby, or describing the child’s stuffed animal as their protector.
5. Send Them Back to Bed Immediately
When a toddler gets up after bedtime, immediately returning them to bed without a discussion teaches that getting up doesn’t result in extra attention or fun time. Amy B. explains: “If she keeps getting out: first trip, pick her up, tell her it is bedtime, and put her back in bed. Second time, and however many you need after that, take her by the hand and put her to bed. Say nothing. It might take a week, and 5,000 times, but it actually does work, and usually within a couple of days. Just keep your cool and don't make it a game for her. Unless there is something wrong, they are usually trying to get our attention.”
6. Solo Sleep
Numerous moms emphasized that having a toddler learn to fall asleep on their own — and stay in their own bed — is essential to a smooth nighttime routine. Some, like Christy H., suggest using a childproof door knob cover: “I got one of those doorknob protector things so the kid can’t turn the knob and I put it on the inside of his room. That way he can't get up and crawl into our bed; that was a habit I didn't want to start.”
Other moms, like Lisa M., leave the child’s bedroom door ajar but blocked with a gate: “We put up a baby gate at the door when our son sleeps as well, so if he needs to know we are still there or to wake us in the morning he can come to the door, but this also signifies to him that it is time to sleep.”
Erin L., meanwhile, found a reward system worked: “Try a reward system. We've found that our 3 year-old does really well with a sticker chart. We just have the problem that he wakes up in the middle of the night and comes in our room to crawl in our bed. We started telling him if he stayed in his bed he would get a sticker, I just cut a big star out of construction paper to put the stickers on. The first week or two was hit or miss, but now it has worked. He is so proud of himself when he gets a sticker.“
With all the above strategies, consistency is key. As Tracey F. advises: “If you are trying a new routine, don’t give up on it straight away or you will confuse your daughter or let her think she has won and that you are giving in to her. Accept that you are going to have a few rough nights and stick to it. Once your daughter knows you are not giving in she will get used to the routine.”
Looking for more bedtime tips?
Whether you're looking for tips on drop-side crib alternatives, switching to a toddler bed, potty-training at night, or bedwetting, Circle of Moms members share great advice on many common nighttime parenting challenges.