How does bedtime look like at your home? If it involves plenty of yelling and crying, here are 6 easy tips for handling your toddler’s bedtime tantrums.
Once upon a time, you and your toddler enjoyed a soothing and calming bedtime routine. You would give her a warm bath, tell her a story, brush her teeth, and be in bed by 8 p.m. She would sleep until 8 a.m. with no wakings or cryings in the middle of the night.
But now, your bedtime routine has become a struggle. Since turning two, your child has begun refusing to go to sleep and throwing tantrums at bedtime. She would get out of bed and scream at the door. She would eventually go to sleep, but the process is draining and frustrating.
Don’t feel desperate!
The truth is that toddlers are going through a chaotic stage. Their emotions are overwhelming, and they don’t possess the skills to deal with them yet. On top of that, they’re starting to look for some more autonomy in their lives and quickly learn that sleep is one thing they can control.
Although each child is different and responds to different things differently, here are some steps you can take to set good habits and make bedtime an enjoyable time.
Make sure she gets enough positive attention from you
If you notice that your toddler’s bedtime tantrums coincide with times when you’ve been physically and emotionally unavailable to her, then it might be that she’s craving your attention.
What she needs is positive attention from you. Leave all your chores to spend some valuable time together and assure her that you’re there and still care for her.
Even 10 minutes of chatting before bed can do the trick. Turn the lights off, play some calming music, and let her talk to you. She may want to talk about the most random things, like things that happened months ago, or imaginary stuff.
Try giving her choices
Toddlers like to be in control, so let them. Try giving her some choices throughout the day and at bedtime.
For example, let her choose which pajamas she wants to wear. Or, let her watch a short video while you brush her teeth, but let her choose which video she likes to watch. If you’re reading a book, it should be her choice.
The important thing is to not offer too many choices, or she may get overwhelmed and you may end up with a battle.
Use blackout curtains and play soothing music
Blackout curtains can come in handy, especially if you live on a well-lit street that gets plenty of sunshine during the day. During the summer days, your child can get confused as to why she’s going to sleep when it’s still sunny outside. Blackout curtains can block sunlight, plus they can act as insulation against outdoor sounds.
Although research is limited, it indicates that playing soothing music or sounds can improve children’s sleep quality. Regardless of the evidence, playing soothing sounds can still calm and relax your little one before bed. Make sure the music is not too loud and not too quiet so that your toddler can easily fall asleep to the sounds of the falling rain or ocean waves.
One trick is to play the same sounds every night so that she learns to associate the music with bedtime and go to sleep much faster.
Entice her with a fun routine
Toddlers may get startled by water disappearing down the drain, dogs, monsters, or even bees. These fears may interfere with their ability to enjoy a long and peaceful sleep.
If your child is experiencing nightmares or night terrors, incorporating fun elements into her bedtime routine can go a long way.
For example, if she’s scared of monsters under the bed, you can get a bottle and fill it with a mixture of water and some lavender oil. Attach a label on the bottle that says “Monster Spray” and tell your child that this spray will keep the monster away. Tell her that water scares monsters, and the lavender makes their nose itch.
Sometimes, books or shows may spook your little one. If fears appeared right after she began watching a new show or reading a new book, she might have seen something that scared her. Stop watching the scary show or reading the spooky book, and fears may fade away.
As children develop independence during toddlerhood, they may become more aware of separations. Their behaviors at separations will be loud and tearful, and difficult, especially when they’re tired, sick, or hungry.
If your toddler is having bedtime tantrums, it may be because she doesn’t want to separate from her caregiver. One way of helping her overcome her separation anxiety is by taking some time to relax together.
Turn off the light, pull out the blackout curtains, get under the blankets, and just cuddle. You can sit in silence or let her talk about her day.
However, make sure you don’t get your child used to falling asleep while you’re still there, as this can lead to other problems.
Consider sleep training
If all of the steps above prove ineffective for your toddler’s bedtime tantrums, you may want to consider sleep training your toddler. Sleep training can help your child learn how to fall asleep independently and self-soothe when she wakes up at night.
There are several sleep training methods for toddlers you can choose from, whether that is the Ferber Method or the Fading Method.