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Bedtime Tantrums - How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep

Feb 8, 2022 At around 3-years-old, my oldest child would fight me night after night and have the biggest toddler bedtime tantrums. The screaming and lack of sleep each night were enough to drive me insane.

The bedtime routine was always fine but she would cry several nights in a row when we tried to put her down. She’d say that wanted to sleep in my bed and use all sorts of stalling tactics.

If you are finding yourself in this same situation, keep reading for simple ideas you can use to get your toddler to sleep.

Why Does My Toddler Cry Hysterically at Night?

If you are wondering why your child cries at night know that there are many reasons. But you can use the process of elimination until you figure out what is wrong with your child. But here are some helpful tips.

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Separation Anxiety 

Some kids struggle with separation anxiety for a multitude of reasons. Remember we are their world and they depend on us.

I learned a technique from Supernanny when my daughter expressed that she wanted to be with me. To avoid her coming into my room. I would sit near her in her room, sometimes singing. Just to make her feel safe and secure so that she could go to sleep and that everything would be ok.  My youngest likes for me to just rub her back and seeks security in the form of touch.  

It’s not abnormal for young children to experience this. In the case of my oldest, I was a working mom and she often didn’t want the night to start because that meant the next day would come and mommy had to work.

Sometimes a sound machine can help. Especially if your child feels uneasy with the dark and silence at night. 

Being Afraid of the Dark

If your kiddo expresses that they are afraid of the dark there are so many unique and fun ways to solve this problem:

  • Get a basic nightlight 
  • Turn on the closet light
  • Get a glow in the dark stuffed animal
  • Get a flashlight or stuffed animal that has a light that turns on
  • Use a diffuser that has a light in it
  • Buy a night light projector
  • Try out a music box with a light 
  • Get an alarm clock that comes with changing color lights 
  • Add glow in the dark stars to their ceilings and walls
  • Get a 3D night light 
  • Outline their room, furniture or, whatever you want with glow in the dark tape
  • Add a battery-operated push light your child can control
  • Install led strip lighting underneath their bed

Get creative and make it fun for them. Allowing them to participate in decorating their room will make bedtime more exciting. 

Another fun idea is to make a monster spray. If your child is scared you can Google the term monster spray. You make up the story that this special spray will make the monsters go away.  And you spray it all over their room and under the bed.  

Most monster sprays are usually a mixture of lavender essential oil and water, and are naturally calming and of course, smell amazing.  

Power Struggle 

When kids are asserting their preferences they will often fight to go to sleep. The way to combat that is by giving up some of the control.

So for example, if your child fights when you say it’s time for bed. Maybe you say it’s reading time now and then lights off. Or create a bedtime routine that allows your child control of what happens before they turn in. Maybe it’s because we make up stories or read two extra books?  

Giving them options helps them to feel like they have some type of say in what is going on, and reduces the power struggle. 

Fear of Missing Out

If your child fights to go to sleep or sneaks out of the room to see what you are up to it could be that they are just afraid of missing out. Who wants the fun to end? 

I know my kids sometimes feel like they are missing out on what mommy and daddy are doing. So we will often tell them the faster to get to sleep, the faster you get to enjoy more fun things tomorrow. Or give them something to look forward to, too, like all the fun activities you plan to do the next day.  

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Not Tired Enough or Not Having Enough Daily Activity

There are days when my toddler doesn’t get enough activity and so she doesn’t want to go to sleep.  It might be a sign that they need shorter nap-times. You may also want to consider getting them involved with an extracurricular activity.

There will be those off days when I will allow her to sit next to me. I will rub her back and we talk or maybe read an extra story. Basically, what I am doing is extending her bedtime.

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Could be a Cold

When my kids are starting to get sick they often find it hard to fall asleep. It’s usually because they are uncomfortable. Pay attention to your kiddos when their sleep patterns change. And notice cold signs before they become a full-blown cold. For example, my son will often start to sneeze right before he gets sick. 

Tantrums and sick days

So I will immediately start to do my cold remedies to try to combat the cold early. 

Make Sure They Aren’t Too Hot or Cold

Children have much smaller bodies than we do. So if they are too warm or too cold they may find it hard to sleep. One of the best things I have done was putting a fan on in my kid’s room. It allows for airflow which can regulate the temperature.  

Also, during the wintertime I like to put on a humidifier. If the room is too dry.  

Lastly, I bought a sensory blanket for my daughter off of Amazon. It’s like a pillow for the mattress. It goes over the entire mattress and is made of stretchy material perfect for regulating temperature.

Calm tantrums with sensory blanket

It is also great for kids who have sensory issues.  

Lastly, test out different pajama outfits. Short sleeve vs. long sleeve. Footed vs. no feet etc.

Processing a Struggle that Happened Earlier

Children can find themselves replaying the day’s events or dealing with certain emotions from their day during the night. Since they no longer have the stimuli of the day’s activities, their brain will focus on things that may have happened.

There were times my son would tell me something that made him feel bad or sad. And it was why he didn’t wanna sleep. He once told me that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk about it.

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Talk to your child if you see them struggling to sleep or if they are crying. And ask questions about their day, but don’t pressure them. Ask questions that leave the door open for them to open up to you when they are ready. You might discover they are worried about something which is why they are not falling asleep.

It’s no different than the nights you may have when you are worried or stressed about something. Children are learning and growing every day. So processing so much can mean lots of colliding emotions or ideas.

So what happens though when you go through a process of elimination and nothing works.

How Long Should I Let My Toddler Cry?

The lack of sleep of any parent is not good. You may find yourself at your wit’s end if night after night you are fighting the bedtime battle.   

In this case, you can try the cry-it-out method. Personally, I am not a fan of the method, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t try the cry it out method.  

My husband was the stronger one when it came to the cry it out method.  

So to use the cry-it-out method, you can start by letting them cry for no more than 5 minutes.  Then go in and reassure them they are ok. Then repeat the process again but maybe add a minute if you have to. And just keep repeating. I wouldn’t go longer than 10 mins. 

The point is to keep reassuring your child. Letting them know you are there but that it is bedtime and that is final. 

Dealing with bedtime tantrums is exhausting. And when you are in the middle of it. You feel defeated and like there is no end in sight.

There were times where I was so exhausted from several nights of no sleep that I felt ill. I recommend seeking help when you can.  Ask for a family member to come over so you can rest or nap. 

Consider switching off nights with your husband. Do what you need so that you can get rest. It’s important to get your rest and stick to the routine. Consistency is key in how to deal with toddler tantrums at bedtime!

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Comments (2)
  • My son is severely speech delayed. I can understand this plays a big part in his nighttime fits. We have a pretty solid nighttime routine. Bath time, reading, and lullabies until we fall asleep. There are some nights he doesn’t go down with out a fight. Do you have any tips or suggestions?

    • On the nights where your son has difficulty falling asleep, can you see a pattern? For example, is he still napping? Is he napping too long on those days? Does he need/want something that he can’t verbally express to you on those nights? Routines are fabulous and they will definitely decrease frustration levels. As far as tips, I would stick to your normal routine, but try and figure out why he’s more upset on those nights. Sometimes, there’s no rhyme or reason – it could be a growth spurt, learning a new skill, teething (not sure how old your son is) or possibly getting a cold. I’d also recommend being calm, even though it’s not always easy. If he can feel that you are tense or upset, that will only increase his emotional response.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

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