Tricks and tips to tame toddler bedtime battles

Tricks and tips to tame toddler bedtime battles

Is bedtime a bit of a major with a toddler in your house? I hear it all too often! So, I’ve put together some tricks and tips to help you tame those toddler bedtime battles.

Toddlers and bedtime drama often go hand and hand. Indeed, you can be moving along relatively stress free with your little ones sleep and then one night it’s like you have a different child when it’s time for bed.

I’ve found that a child can begin demonstrating more toddler-like behaviour anywhere around 14 – 20 months old. Once they hit that point, all of a sudden there can be some major protesting! Here are some things you can do to help tame those toddler bedtime battles. Don’t despair, it really is possible to get your calm evenings back! These tips can work with older children too.

Ensure a consistent bedtime routine A consistent bedtime routine helps cue the body and the brain that sleep is coming, this makes it easier to fall asleep and it’s a nice transition from the busy-ness of the day. There are definitely things to consider when planning a good bedtime routine in general, and you can find more on this here.

Note that the consistency is important. If you’ve previously used a bedtime routine but there are places that have become inconsistent, bring back the structure.  Toddlers thrive with structure and bedtime routines. Stay consistent with it and don’t buy into any negotiating.

Allow limited choice – Most adults don’t like a micromanaging boss; we want to have a say in what we do – and your toddler is learning that too.

Balancing their need for independence, whilst still getting things done, can be helped by offering a “this” or “that” choice. Too much choice is overwhelming, but limited choice gives your child some power and control over their lives.

Something as simple as “would you like these blue pyjamas or these green ones” can make a huge difference in how smoothly the lead up to bedtime goes.

Look at the whole day’s schedule – are naps happening in the right place?  Is bedtime at an appropriate time based on the nap (or lack of nap)? – A child who is overtired OR undertired can find going to sleep difficult, and that means they’re much more likely to play up at bedtime.

Depending on the age of your child, you may have to consider dropping to one nap a day, capping the midday nap, or even dropping naps all together. Older toddlers having one nap can often handle a later bedtime, BUT you may have to consider bringing bedtime forward if the transition is recent.

Set clear expectations – Does your child actually know the rules? That is, do they know what you expect of them at bedtime? Make sure you have this (brief) discussion at their level.

It is also worth remembering that toddlers have little impulse control and will forget the rules easily – repetition here is key. If your child is over 18 months old, make a sleep rules chart – and have it in the bedroom to refer to frequently.

Reward good behaviour not bad –  When we’re rewarded, we’re much more likely to repeat that behaviour, so don’t just focus on the negatives. Specific praise can be a really powerful motivator to encourage your child to continue the good behaviour. Give the positive behaviour more attention so you see more of it. Sometimes this means we need to look for the smallest thing our children are doing right and comment on THIS positively vs battling the bad behaviour.  Attention is a positive motivator to a toddler, and any attention is attention (even if it’s negative attention). Sticker charts and tangible rewards can help too.

Prepare to be consistent – when you change things and start new expectations, there can be some acting out – but if you remain consistent this should blow over quickly.

Remember that old phrase, “give an inch and they’ll take a mile” (I swear my dad used it to describe me); it sums up toddler behaviour to a T.. if you let something slip, your toddler will likely jump on it and keep trying for that slip up again… and then, before you know it, your child is dictating what happens for the two hours at bedtime and its game over for your evening.

Chances are, your wilful toddler has more energy than you do after a long day, especially if the bad behaviour has previously got them something they’ve wanted in the past (attention from you). Toddlers have long memories, so you may need to be consistent for a little while before you see progress.


If bedtime battles are ruling your household, or sleep is seemingly all too hard how about some one-on-one help to discuss the best way forward for your family. I love working with toddlers! – I’d love to offer you a free initial call and mini sleep evaluation. When you know what’s causing the problem, it’s much easier to solve it! Book a free 15-minute call here.

Alternatively, I also offer 20-minute express calls or 30-minute ask me anything calls with email support. You can find more about these and book here.

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