Winning The Bedtime Battles With My Toddler

Bedtime BattlesWe did it! We finally won the bedtime battle with my two year old.

There are millions of parents out there who struggle with getting a child to go to bed, stay in bed, sleep through the night, sleep in their own room… and the list goes on. When you finally find the secret for your own child, it feels like you conquered the world. I want to share what we did to have success in our home. I’ll also preface this by saying these tools won’t work for everyone. You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again… every child is different!

Last month, I received this email from a reader, Sarah:


  I have followed your blog for some time and I love all the great tips and advice you give out.
I am currently finishing my last semester of grad school and in May. I will have a master’s in school counseling.  Before this, I taught Emotional Disabled special ed middle school boys and have years of experience with kids from various races.  So I feel that I am pretty vetted when it comes to “knowing” what makes children tick…expect when it comes to my 3 year old.  I know that they go through phases and he is starting to test my husband and me, but HOLY MOLY!!  When it comes to disciplining him, you would think I have never met a child before.  I have excellent classroom management, but I can’t seem to “manage” him.
Bedtime is one of our biggest issues lately.  We let him watch a half hour of Scooby Doo after he has put on pajama’s, brushed his teeth and gone to the bathroom (assisted of course).  When it comes time to go upstairs, you would think we are sending him into a gas chamber.  His new thing is that he is scared.  We have a nightlight in the hallway, one in his room, we play soft music and keep his door open.  He looks for any reason to keep us in the room and screams bloody murder when we leave.  We have even offered the choice of letting him sleep on our floor.  Again, the screaming and tantrum.  He isn’t going to bed late, 8:30, so it isn’t that he is overly tired.  I just don’t want nighttime to become a stressful event.
He has also developed the art of back talk.  We don’t let it go uncorrected, reminding him how he is supposed to talk to us.  I would like to know where my sweet baby went.  Please offer some advice.
This email sounded just like me last month. In fact, I read it to my husband just to give us a sense that normalcy and we were able to laugh a little at the sheer similarity of our circumstances. Misery really does love company sometimes, right? Well, since this email, we have been bedtime battle FREE for at least three weeks so I thought it was time to share my experience here.
What We Were Up Against
Let me put it this way. Every day, I would literally dread the two-hour long bedtime routine and battle to get my toddler resting peacefully in his bed.
  • He screamed bloody murder when we tried to leave his room.
  • He tried to manipulate sleeping in my bed (sometimes we let him).
  • Toddler took forever to fall asleep so we waited in his room until he did so we could sneak out (if he was the slightest bit awake he knew we were leaving).
  • My husband and I both stayed with him through the entire routine (“We are in this together” mentality)
  • Everyone is exhausted at the end of the day so patience was running thin.
  • He  now has to wait his turn for attention since his little sister has arrived.
How We Turned Things Around
I received my regular post one day from one of my favorite parenting blogs, Sleeping Should Be Easy, talking about bedtime battles. I found some good reminders about what I should be doing to help my son go to bed with less of a fight and talked myself into getting serious.
  1. Routine. Routine. Routine. Establishing a routine for kids is so very important and I had let ours slip quite a bit. Like I said, we are tired at the end of the day and we have a new little one in the picture as well. However, giving up on a routine was not the answer. He was going to school at varied times, eating at varied times, missing baths every now and then… you name it. If I could cut a corner, I probably would. Now, we stick pretty close to a routine. Our evening routine looks something like this: Dinner, Bath, Books, 10 minutes snuggle with lights off.
  2. Divide and Conquer. My husband and I were sharing the evening routine, but going overboard. We both helped bath the kids, read the books, etc. This led to no one ever having a break or being able to take care of other necessities around the house. Today, only one person handles the bath and bed time and the other just gives a good night kiss.
  3. Communicate the Sequence of Events. Even though my son is only two right now, he understands a lot. We tell him what part of the routine is next. I even give him time warning, such as “5 minutes left of bath time, then we read books.”
  4. Call in the other parent in the end. This has actually worked miracle wonderfully for our son. At the end of our “snuggle” time, I tell him I am going to get daddy to tell him good night. He understands this well an doesn’t object to  me leaving because he wants to see his daddy. We then wait about 5 minutes before sending in the next parent. By then, he is pretty well tired and falls asleep soon after.

Like I said, these techniques won’t work for everyone, but maybe they will give you some ideas. If you have some toddler bedtime words of wisdom to share, please do!

For more information on my clinical practice, please visit 🙂

Kingwood Counseling and Play Therapy

Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

5 thoughts on “Winning The Bedtime Battles With My Toddler”

  1. Thanks for the link, Kim! I’m beginning to value more and more the idea of divide and conquer because you’re right—one parent needs to rest while the other handles business. Otherwise, it may seem fair to have both parents tackling the issue, but at the end of the day, everyone is tired.

    Another bit I would add is consistency. If parents want to change something, let’s say not letting the toddler sleep in bed, they have to be consistent in saying no to that, even if it’s just the first few days or weeks. That way the child knows that his parents mean serious business.

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