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How to Avoid Toddler Tantrums at Bedtime


Discover effective strategies to prevent bedtime tantrums, ensuring a peaceful and restful night for your toddler. Learn from our Slumberkins experts.

As your child reaches their twos and threes, you might have imagined you’d get more restful sleep. Instead, you’ve found yourself trying to convince a strong-willed child to calm down and end the day’s fun. 

Transitions in childhood can be a big challenge, so it’s no wonder that toddler tantrums at bedtime are common.

Toddlers have strong ideas about what they want to do. They have trouble getting through all the steps involved—washing up, changing clothes, brushing teeth, and so on. Throw in separation anxiety or being scared of the dark, and you’ve got a case for a bedtime battle with your little one. Here, we’ll cover how to help your toddler communicate their needs at bedtime without tears or temper tantrums so you can create a peaceful slumber routine.  

Importance of Establishing a Calm Bedtime Routine

For toddlers who thrive on patterns and predictability, a calming and consistent bedtime routine is like a comforting embrace at the end of a busy day. Practicing good sleep hygiene with your child from the beginning supports healthy development in several ways:

  • Bedtime rituals condition the brain to shift from daytime mode to the quiet nighttime hours
  • Predictability provides a sense of security and safety
  • Sleep routines support circadian function, memory and learning, emotional regulation, and brain structure development

With all these reasons to establish a calm bedtime routine, why wouldn’t you do it? Well, because it’s easier said than done. Let’s take a look at the typical bedtime struggles caretakers encounter in trying to create a peaceful bedtime rhythm.


Recognizing the Common Challenges Parents Face

Most bedtime woes with your little one come down to a few core issues within toddler sleep routines:

  • Trouble with task-switching – All humans have some difficulty with task-switching, and it’s more so for kids due to their developing brains. It’s especially tricky when you’re asking your child to switch from what they want to do to a chore or task (like getting ready for bed).
  • Pushing for self-determination – Toddlers are beginning to develop their independence and a strong sense of individuality. Power struggles around rules like bedtime are a common development at this stage. Don’t be surprised if a temper tantrum arises for your little one, especially if they’ve had a long nap time earlier in the day. 
  • Separation anxiety – It’s normal for children to struggle with being separated from their parents at certain developmental stages. Being afraid of the dark or having nightmares can also give your kid anxiety at bedtime. 

Once you’ve identified what’s behind their bedtime resistance, you can tailor your toddler’s bedtime routine to help. 

Creating a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Structure and predictability are two magic ingredients for reducing bedtime anxiety and resistance in toddlers. The third key ingredient? Offering a few (limited) choices in the routine to let your child feel empowered. 

Here are a few tips for creating the perfect bedtime routine:

 

  • Set a regular sleep schedule for toddlers – Sticking to a regular bedtime is crucial for kids (don’t forget that it’s good for grown-ups, too!). Not only does it help ensure that they’ll get enough sleep each night, but it also helps the brain release hormones to induce sleep and waking at the correct times each night and day. According to the American Association of Pediatrics and the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers need about 10-14 hours of sleep per night. 
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    • Incorporate relaxing activities before bed – Toddler sleep research indicates that an earlier bedtime routine for children should include 3 or 4 soothing activities performed in the same order each night. For example, your child might enjoy a warm bath, storytime, and a lullaby.

     

    • Offer a few choices – Bedtime isn’t optional, but you can give your toddler some control over their routine by providing two or three options when possible. For example, you could ask, “Do you want to brush your teeth or wash your face first?” Or, “Do you want to read about Yak or Bigfoot tonight?” 

     

    • Remind them of your special connection – If your child’s bedtime woes stem from worries about being away from you, take an extra moment each night for cuddling and connection. Share a story or provide a special stuffie from our Otter collection to remind them that you’re always connected heart-to-heart, even if you’re not in the room. 

    Creating a Comfortable Sleep Environment

    Now that you’ve got your bedtime routine planned, let’s talk about creating a soothing sleep environment for your toddler. 

    • Minimize distractions – Take a look at your toddler’s bedroom. Is it a calming oasis or a cluttered jungle of toys? Aim for simplicity and tranquility. Keep the room tidy, with toys picked up and put out of sight before bedtime.
    • Adjust lighting – Low light is important for signaling the brain and body that it’s time for sleep. The room should be as dark as your child is comfortable with. If light from streetlights or the sun is a problem, add a set of blackout curtains to the window. 
    • Adjust temperature – The recommended room temperature for children’s sleep is a little higher than for adults, typically between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Check their temperature by feeling the back of their neck. If it feels sweaty, take off a blanket or lower the thermostat slightly. 
    • Choose appropriate sleepwear and bedding – Make sure to adjust your toddler’s pajamas and blankets to suit their typical sleep temperature. Many children will overheat if they’re put to bed in fleecy footie pajamas and tucked under heavy blankets. Choose bedding and pajamas made of a breathable fabric like cotton to allow airflow and heat dissipation.

    Communication and Understanding Toddler Needs

    Toddlers may not have mastered the art of self-expression, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to say. Sometimes temper tantrums can be a way for children to act out feelings they can’t identify or understand. 

    Tantrums can often be deflected with these techniques:

    • Encouraging verbal expression of feelings – Help your toddler put words to their feelings by asking open-ended questions and practicing reflective listening. You might ask, “I see that you feel [upset/angry/sad]. Can I help?” 
    • Establishing clear expectations – Let your child know exactly what happens during their bedtime routine: Bath, then brushing teeth, then two bedtime stories, then lights out (or whatever your routine is). Creating a visual representation with colorful pictures can help. Post it somewhere easy to see, such as the bathroom wall, and point to each step of the routine as you check it off.
    • Collaborating with partners or caregivers for consistent approaches – If a co-parent, grandparent, or other caregiver does bedtime occasionally, it’s important to make sure they follow the same bedtime structure. A visual schedule can help here too—other caregivers are more likely to follow your established routine if they have a visual reminder. 

    Transitional Phrases & Objects to Support

    Transitional phrases and objects are signals that help your child make the mental shift from one activity or time of day to another. For bedtime, transitional tools can be especially powerful. With time, your child’s mind and body will learn to respond to familiar signals with sleepy feelings.

    Transitional phrases let your child know what’s coming next to avoid surprises and arguing. You might say something like:

    • “After you change into your pjs, you can choose your bedtime story.”
    • “One more story, then it’s sleepy time.”
    • “Once you brush your teeth, then you get to cuddle up with Sloth.

    Transitional objects can include anything your child finds especially comforting at bedtime:

    • Keep a favorite, extra-plush Snuggler set aside just for bedtime
    • Provide your child with a special Kin as their night time buddy 
    • Switch on a special night light or ceiling star projector to make the room feel safe and familiar

    Let Slumberkins Help Your Child Set Sail for Sweet Dreams 

    With a calming bedtime routine in place and a comfy sleep environment around them, your toddler will be ready to greet the end of their day with a smile. 

    For this, consistency is the key. Practice sticking to your routine each night, and watch as bedtime tantrums soon become a thing of the past. 

    Looking for more tips on creating a peaceful sleepy time system? Slumberkins can help with our broad collection of social-emotional books and characters to suit every mood. Share a comforting story or two, then let your child cuddle up with any one of our adorable Kins. Sweet dreams are sure to follow!



    Sources: 


    Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. Sleep and early brain development. https://karger.com/anm/article/75/Suppl.%201/44/42656/Sleep-and-Early-Brain-Development 


    Child Mind Institute. Why do kids have trouble with transitions? https://childmind.org/article/why-do-kids-have-trouble-with-transitions


    Cleveland Clinic. What’s the Best Temperature for Sleep? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-the-ideal-sleeping-temperature-for-my-bedroom 


    National Sleep Foundation. Sleep by the numbers. https://www.thensf.org/sleep-facts-and-statistics/ 


    Sleep Foundation. Children and sleep. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep

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