Night after night, you take a deep breath, mentally prepare yourself, and head into battle…
Because bedtime is far from a pleasant experience at your house. Your kiddo refuses to go to bed, and once they’re finally in their room and you think the battle is won, they refuse to go to sleep until they get one more story or mom lays in bed with them. Then, just when you think they’re out for the count and you can get the rest you need, here comes the pitter-patter of little feet, ready for round three.
Does that sound familiar? If so, I want you to know that hundreds of families like yours go through the same battles every night. And as a Sleep Consultant, there are a few common bedtime battles that I see over and over again when families begin sleep training with me.
Today, I want to touch on each of these battles and give you a few strategies to help you beat these bedtime battles and finally make peace with your munchkin’s sleep once and for all!
Bedtime Battle #1: Bedtime Shenanigans
“As soon as it’s time for bed, my little one starts all kinds of shenanigans. Bedtime takes hours!”
Gentle reminder…you’re the parent. And you’re in charge. Don’t let your toddler get away with bedtime shenanigans!
If bedtime is taking hours because your child refuses to settle down and go to sleep, then the first step is setting firm but loving boundaries. And you need to be consistent in enforcing those boundaries. The more often you give in or allow your child to act out during bedtime, the more you’re letting them know that the behavior can continue.
You see, without consistent boundaries, your little munchkin becomes a bedtime gambler. They’re playing their cards each time, hoping they’ll hit the jackpot and Mom or Dad will give in to their demands. But if you take away the jackpot by sticking to your guns and setting clear, consistent boundaries that never waver, your little one will stop gambling because they know they’ll lose every single time.
One great way to set boundaries and expectations your little one can rely on is creating a bedtime routine that everyone loves (and sticks to). Have your toddler help create a visual bedtime routine chart with pictures of each step of the bedtime routine that they can follow.
(Bonus Tip: Take pictures of your little one doing each step of the routine and use these pictures to create your chart. Your little one will love participating in the photoshoot and seeing themselves on the chart each night.)
A bedtime routine chart can help you set expectations for bedtime and provide predictability for your little one, so they feel more in control.
During bedtime, you can also give your little one a chance to assert their independence by making choices. Don’t give them open-ended choices, but instead, allow them to pick between options during the bedtime routine. For example, give them two sets of pajamas to pick from, or let them choose between four different books to read. They will love feeling like they have a say in their bedtime routine, while you are still able to set boundaries. If they refuse to make a choice, simply let them know that if they don’t choose you’ll make the choice for them and you’ll be moving on to the next step of the routine.
Bedtime Battles #2: Sleep Props
“My son won’t go to sleep unless I lay down with him in his bed. Every. Single. Night.”
Sleep props can come in many different forms. Whether your child “needs” you to lay down with them every night or hold their hand while they drift off to sleep or even just stay in the room until they’re sleeping soundly…these are all sleep props that can leave your family exhausted in the long run.
You see, what happens when mom isn’t there to hold her little one’s hand? What if Dad ends up laying in bed for an hour, scared to move and wake his kiddo up?
Breaking these habits and reinforcing healthy sleep habits in their place can provide sleep freedom for the whole family.
Bedtime should end with your child laying down, awake, in their own bed, alone.
My number one tip to help ease this transition and help them fall asleep without your assistance is letting your child choose a lovey (or safety item) to go to bed with each night. Let them pick a favorite plush friend (no more than two) to be their bedtime buddy!
Of course, if your little one is too young for a lovey, you can help them feel comfortable falling asleep on their own by letting them know that you are just a room away and that you’ll always be there if they really need you. Sometimes it helps to let your child know that you will check on them in 10 minutes, just to make sure they are okay and remind them that you are there. Briefly step in the room, don’t answer questions/demands, let them know you’re there, then step out again. In most cases, your little one will already be dozing by the time you come back to check on them.
The other solution for this problem is making sure your child’s room is DARK. If there is too much light, it can prevent them from falling asleep easily! Those nightlights that display little scenes are cute, but they could be distracting your little one or putting out too much light for them to fall into a deep sleep.
But I won’t lie to you, of all the bedtime battles I see, they transition away from using sleep props to fall asleep is one of the hardest to overcome. So if your family needs a little help creating a game plan to help your child develop healthy sleep habits and fall asleep on their own every night, reach out. We can come up with a plan that addresses your family’s individual situation and I can provide the expertise and support you need to get through this transition with ease.
Bedtime Battle #3: Night Wakings
“My daughter keeps waking up in the middle of then night and sneaking into our room.”
Night after night, you hear the sound of little feet sneaking into your bedroom.
How can you get your little one to stay in their bed the whole night?
I’m a BIG fan of a toddler clock like Hatch or Ok To Wake. Using a toddler clock consistently can help your little one understand when it is okay to wake up and learn when they need to stay in bed. Toddler clocks are my hands-down, number one favorite kid item, so if you haven’t invested in one yet, be sure to do so!
And if you’re using a toddler clock, let’s put an emphasis on using it consistently! Make sure you set the same expectation for your little one each night.
If your child does sneak into your bedroom, don’t react! Kids feed off of attention, especially negative attention. The more drama that unfolds when your little one wakes in the middle of the night, the higher the chance of them getting out of bed again and again and again. So put on your “Mom Poker Face” and calmly walk your child back to their bedroom, reinforcing that they need to stay in bed.
I already touched on bedtime routines, but I’ll say it again. Bedtime routines are a wonderful way to prevent unwanted behaviors because they set the bedtime standard. You can also create a morning routine for when your child wakes up each day, that way they have a routine to look forward to when they wake up at the appropriate time. This routine can begin with the light coming on on their toddler clock, then move on to each step you’ll complete with your child as you get ready for the day.
Bedtime battles are never easy, but nightly bedtime battles do not have to be your reality. These tips are a great place to start to help your family conquer your bedtime battles and finally make peace with bedtime. But of course, if you’ve tried every tip in the book and you’re still dreading bedtime, it may be time to consider professional sleep training. I have years of experience addressing each and every one of these bedtime battles, and I can provide you with answers to your most pressing questions, expert guidance, and compassionate support. You don’t have to go it alone. Let’s create your sleep success story.