How to Handle Toddler Tantrums at Bedtime: Mastering the Bedtime Battle

Toddler tantrums at bedtime

Ahhh, bedtime! We finally get some peace and quiet together as husband and wife! Our toddlers, however, always have a different agenda in mind.  The path to our wonderful evening together as husband and wife passes through the war zone of bedtime toddler tantrums and delay tactics! 

Bedtime can often feel like a battlefield when you have a toddler. As the day comes to a close, tiredness and frustration can take over, leading to those infamous bedtime tantrums. Handling toddler tantrums at bedtime requires patience, consistency, and understanding. 

In this article, we will explore the reasons behind these tantrums and give you our battle-tested blueprint for handling them! With the right strategies, you can turn bedtime battles into peaceful, restful nights for both you and your toddler, well at least most of the time. 

First Key: Understanding Toddler Tantrums at Bedtime

toddler with hands over eyes

The first step to handling bedtime tantrums is to recognize the triggers. Common triggers include overtiredness, transitions, fear of separation, a need for power and attention, or even hunger. Knowing the root cause when toddlers throw tantrums can help you address the issue more effectively.

1. Overtiredness

Many toddlers resist sleep when they are overtired because they become overstimulated and find it challenging to calm down. The toddler bedtime tantrums you are having may be because of sleep deprivation. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help avoid this.

2. Transitions

Toddlers often struggle with transitions, and transitioning from playtime to bedtime can be particularly challenging. Ease this transition with a predictable routine that signals it’s time to wind down. 

One thing we like to do is spend like 15 minutes reading a book together. This helps signal its bedtime and reading creates a calm atmosphere for our kids to start winding down. 

3. Separation Anxiety

Fear of being separated from parents or caregivers is common in toddlers. Bedtime can trigger this anxiety, causing tantrums. Reassure your child that you’ll be nearby and that it’s okay to sleep alone.

4. Seeking Power and attention

Kids need to feel empowered and loved. Toddlers want to be more independent and will often throw tantrums when they feel like they have no power over their own lives.

Toddlers also want to feel loved and giving them plenty of quality attention throughout the day will help meet their needs. If their needs for power and attention are not met during the day then they will likely have power struggles and attention-seeking behaviors at bedtime.

5. Hunger

A hungry toddler can become irritable, making bedtime a battle. Ensure your child has a nutritious dinner and a light bedtime snack if necessary.

Strategies to Handle Toddler Tantrums at Bedtime

Dad reading to son in bed

Create a Consistent Bedtime Routine

A predictable routine helps signal to your toddler that it’s time for bed. A consistent routine has proven to be a huge game-changer for our kids. We like to include in our bedtime routine activities like a warm bath, reading a book, and then singing a lullaby to calm them down.

Set a Realistic Bedtime

Ensure your toddler is getting an appropriate amount of sleep for their age. Here are the recommendations for hours of sleep by age given by the National Sleep Foundation

Sleep chart from National Sleep Foundation

A well-rested child is less likely to throw a tantrum. If you are experiencing frequent tantrums then your child’s sleep needs may not be being met and longer daytime naps or an earlier bedtime will be needed!

Establish a Calm Environment

Make the bedroom a comfortable and soothing place. Dim the lights, keep the room at a comfortable temperature, have soothing music, and use white noise if needed.

We use a noise machine that provides several different sound options and our boys love it. 

We also have a Storypod that plays calming music or other bedtime white noise!

Limit Screen Time

The light that is emitted by screens can disrupt sleep. Try to avoid screen time at least an hour before bedtime. 

Too much screen time in our home always seems to lead to more bedtime tantrums and poor behavior in general. Replacing screen time with quality time from Mom and Dad right before bed can make all the difference!

One screen-free calming activity you can try is letting your kids listen to music or stories on the Storypod.

Offer Choices

Toddler picking clothes

Give your toddler a sense of control by offering them choices, such as which pajamas to wear or which stuffed animal to cuddle with. Allow your child to be a part of making the bedtime routine! This will give them a sense of power and ownership over bedtime!

Stay Calm and Patient

When tantrums occur, it’s essential to remain calm and patient. Avoid shouting or reacting emotionally, as this can escalate the situation. We frequently leave the room and lovingly tell our kids that when they calm down we will come back to help them.

Recognize that your child has an unmet need, which is usually one of the previously mentioned tantrum triggers. Identify and fulfill the need instead of getting angry with the behavior. We know, easier said than done!

Use Positive Reinforcement

Encourage good behavior by praising your child when they cooperate at bedtime. Positive reinforcement for young children can motivate them to continue behaving well.

This is a long-term solution, you won’t see immediate results but using positive reinforcement will help your child be self-motivated to have a calm bedtime routine. 

Avoid Overstimulation

Limit stimulating activities before bedtime. Avoid rough play or exciting games (that means you dad), as these can make it harder for your toddler to settle down.

Gradual Bedtime Adjustments

If your child’s bedtime tantrums are related to a fear of being alone, consider making gradual adjustments. Start by sitting with them until they fall asleep and gradually move further away each night until they are comfortable sleeping alone.

One strategy we have learned from the Positive Parenting Solutions course is a method that gently gets your child used to being alone and staying calm. The first night you let them cry it out for 1 minute before you go in to very gently reassure them (rub their back for example) and remind them it’s time for bed and that you are just down the hall. You increase the wait time interval throughout the night. You do this four times. The next night the intervals are slightly longer.  

Offer Comfort Items

Girl holding stuffed bear

Some children find comfort in a special blanket or stuffed animal. Ours do! Each of our boys has special items like a “sleep dog”, sports blankie, and a spotted leopard. Encourage the use of such comfort items during bedtime.

A word of caution if you choose to use comfort items. Know that if you start using comfort items it will be hard for your child to ever sleep peacefully without that item. This can cause problems when say you are on a trip and forgot to bring the precious stuffed animal. Definitely has happened to us! On the flip side, it has helped significantly when we do have these items in new unfamiliar locations!

Empowerment and Attention during the day

toddler boy raising arms

We see a huge decrease in bedtime tantrums when we help our boys feel empowered and give them attention during the day.

Empower your kids during the day by giving them choices. Allow them to be as independent as possible. You don’t have to let them run the place but a healthy dose of positive power goes a long way. When your toddler feels like they have some control in their lives they won’t feel like they need to throw tantrums to get power when it is time to go to bed.

We can’t stress enough the importance of giving your child quality time during the day! We like to give each of our boys one-on-one time with Mom and Dad for at least 10 minutes each day. This helps them feel like they are getting the attention they need. As a result, they tend to seek less attention during bedtime.

Create a Bedtime Chart

Visual aids can help toddlers understand the bedtime routine. Create a chart with pictures of each step in the routine so your child can follow along.

Along with this, role-playing during the day on how the bedtime routine will go can work wonders! When your child knows exactly what to expect they will be more likely to be on board with the routine without any tantrums! 

Yet another tool we learned from Positive Parenting Solutions!

Stay Consistent

toddler girl looking at clock in amazement

Consistency is key when it comes to bedtime. Stick to the routine you’ve established, even on weekends, to help your child’s body clock adjust.

Pretty soon your kids will be getting themselves ready for bed and going right to sleep…ya, if only that actually happened! 

Consistency will be your best friend for long-term success! 

Key Considerations For Successfully Handling Toddler Tantrums at Bedtime

Toddler in bed with smile

Remember that every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Be flexible in your approach and be prepared to adapt your strategies as needed. With time and effort, bedtime can become a cherished routine that provides both restful sleep and precious bonding moments with your toddler. 

Taking it to the Next Level: How to Go Beyond This Guide 

Knowing that your child may present unique challenges that seem to stump you, looking into a parenting course may be helpful! Much of what we have learned, implemented, and shared in this blog comes from Positive Parenting Solutions. This program has given us some practical tools to utilize in various unique parenting situations.

We didn’t realize a parenting course was what we needed until we stumbled upon it. If there is anything we would wish for every single parent to have, it would be the tools taught in the Positive Parenting Solutions course! Check it out! It’s an amazing course filled with so many tools to bring peace to your life of parenthood!

Beyond tantrums: other bedtime struggles with the toddlers

Mom comforting son in bed

Nightmares and Night Terrors

If your toddler wakes up frightened, comfort them, and reassure them that it was just a bad dream. Provide a nightlight if needed. 

Night terrors can be more challenging to deal with but are usually harmless. Ensure your child is safe and gently soothe them back to sleep.

Bedwetting

Bedwetting can lead to frustration and embarrassment, causing tantrums. Be understanding and use waterproof bedding to minimize the inconvenience. Consult your pediatrician if bedwetting persists.

Delay Tactics

Toddlers often use stall tactics to avoid bedtime. If your child continuously asks for more stories or another glass of water, calmly but firmly let them know that it’s time for sleep. Offer these things earlier in the bedtime routine to prevent stalling.

Getting out of bed…again and again

parenting meme from https://www.rd.com/list/mom-memes/

Some of the reasons our boys come up with for constantly getting out of bed are so ridiculous. It can be so frustrating putting your child to bed just for them to get up again with random requests, stories, or needs.

Again, it is important to make sure their needs for power and attention are met during the day and you will see much less of this.

When you do see it, just quietly remind them it is time for bed and calmly take them back to bed.

Refusing to Sleep Alone

If your child insists on sleeping in your bed, gently guide them back to their bed. Remind them that it’s their own space, and you’ll be nearby if they need you. Not to mention Mom and Dad need their own space! 

Wrapping Up and Our Experience with Toddler Tantrums at Bedtime

Some of the most successful nights avoiding tantrums while putting our children to bed have been implementing these tools and ideas. Our boys do best and want to listen when they have received positive power earlier in the day and when they are given as many options as possible to help them feel like they have control over their lives.

Our boys thrive on routine and consistency in bedtime tasks, and by doing so it helps diminish our toddler bedtime tantrums in a big way. Their compliance to go to bed also becomes significantly easier for us. Our oldest especially struggles to settle down and fall asleep, however, when we take time to listen to him and again, help him feel valued and empowered, our night improves greatly.

When possible we like to lay by him right before he falls asleep and let him tell us whatever he wants to about his day. He is less likely to continue getting out of bed if we give him these few extra minutes.

Another huge piece to eliminating our toddler’s bedtime tantrums and ensuring they each sleep at night would be the special items they each cherish. They hate going to bed without their stuffed animals or blankies, so this is a must in our home.

One last bonus tip that helps in our home is to get each of our boys ready separately. This allows for one-on-one time with one of us and prevents them from feeding off each other with poor behavior.

Conclusion

Bedtime tantrums in toddlers are a common part of parenting, but with patience, the right techniques, and consistency, they can be managed effectively. Understanding the triggers behind these tantrums, creating a calm bedtime routine, and ensuring your kids are getting the positive attention they need during the day can make the bedtime experience more peaceful for both you and your child.

When we follow the steps shared here in a consistent way, we ENJOY bedtime with our kids! 

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