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Bedtime Battles: Avoiding toddler tantrums

how to help your child stay in bed

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After a busy day with an energetic toddler, bedtime might seem like a welcome idea to us, but not necessarily to your toddler and so the bedtime battles commence.

Your little one has come to the realisation that they are separate from you, they are their own person and as part of their quest for independence, they may put up a fight when it’s time to go to bed. They also don’t want to miss out on whatever else is going on and it doesn’t seem to matter how tired they are, they’ll fight it for as long as possible. If this sounds all too familiar, have a look at some of these tips for winning the bedtime battle.

Create a routine

This is something it’s best to do right from the start. It sets expectations for your toddler and gives them pre-warning that we’re heading towards bedtime. We found that Max responds more positively and willingly when given forewarning.

Giving your child the opportunity to contribute to the routine and make their own choices also makes it more fun. It’s less like us dictating that they do something and more an activity you can do together. Let them choose which pyjamas to wear or which bedtime story to read. Make sure you phrase these choices carefully though giving them only the options you want them to choose from. For example if you ask your toddler ‘which pyjamas do you want to wear tonight?’ you might find them stalling and rifling through the drawer for a little while. So keep the options to ‘do you want to wear your robot pyjamas or your dinosaur pyjamas?’ This way they get to make their own choice but you still get the desired answer.Bed time Battles: Avoiding toddler tantrums

Let your toddler settle on their own

The key here is to provide reassurance even when you’re not in the room so they can drift off to sleep without you there.

Give plenty of hugs and kisses without labouring the point or letting them stall you. Max has been settling himself to sleep for a long time but even now if we stay in the room just that little bit too long when saying goodnight, he expects us to stay, so my personal advice would be to keep it short and sweet! If your child protests, try telling them to lie down nicely and close their eyes then you’ll come back and check on them in 5 minutes. With a bit of luck, if they lay down and close their eyes they’ll be asleep or at least dozing off by the time you go back in! It also provides them with the reassurance that you’re not far away.

When Max protests that he’s not tired (while rubbing his eyes and yawning…) we’ve also tried the tactic of telling him we’re tired too and that we’re going to bed soon as well. This can work quite well to remind him he’s not missing out on anything if he goes to bed because we’re also on our way soon.

Keep your cool and stay positive

It’s the end of the day and you’re both tired which can lead to understandable frustration at bedtime but the best thing to do is to keep calm. Getting cross is likely to turn it into a full on tantrum so just be firm – it’s bedtime now and everything else your toddler tries to stall you with can wait until tomorrow.Bed time Battles: Avoiding toddler tantrums

You also don’t want your little one to associate bedtime with negativity if it always descends into a telling off/tantrum. The underlying message here is that going to bed isn’t a punishment; it’s something we all do when we’re tired. Put a positive spin on any persuasion tactics you employ, even if they’re being met with shrill or shouty responses! Remind them that the sooner they go to sleep, the sooner we can wake up tomorrow and go to the park/go over to Grandma’s and they don’t want to be too tired to do all those fun things.  We also tell Max that as soon as he’s gone to sleep we’ll check on him and give him another kiss goodnight. He’s 3 and a half and hasn’t yet made the connection that if he’s asleep then he won’t know if we’ve come in or not so we’re going to use that ploy as long as we can!


If your little one is shouting the odds then keep persisting. If they’re in a cot, keep going in laying them down and telling them again that it’s time to go to sleep now. The same tactic applies to toddlers who are able to get themselves out of bed. Keep taking them back to bed and reaffirming what you’ve already told them. It can be hard to hear your child getting frustrated but after some difficult nights, you will hopefully see some relatively quick improvement!





About Celyn Parry

About Celyn Parry

Celyn Parry has 12 years experience working with a leading children’s retailer but is now focusing on her passion for writing. With many years spent on the shop floor listening to parents, she prides herself on creating down to earth articles with a dash of humour and personal insight. As Step-Mum to adorable chatterbox Max, it’s a bit of a juggling act but it certainly keeps things interesting!

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