So… you’ve spent two or three years establishing the rules and maintaining a consistent routine. Your child knows the drill when bedtime rolls around, has learned how to fall asleep independently, and bedtime is typically a wonderful experience. You read some stories, sing a few songs, and spend some quality bonding time with each other before your child goes down for the night.
And then one day, everything changes.
Suddenly, you’ve got a toddler on your hands, and he’s challenging his bedtime routine at every turn.
I hear this scenario from a lot of parents. “I don’t know what happened! He was doing great, and suddenly he’s fighting me about absolutely everything!”
Well, the good news is that this is completely normal.
Your typical toddler is just starting to experience the world around him. Everything is so new and exciting, and he wants to try it all!
Unfortunately, he doesn’t understand concepts like consequences, emotions, or patience, so he’s inevitably going to start just doing things, and seeing what happens when he pushes some boundaries.
And nothing provides him with more opportunities to test those boundaries than his bedtime routine. Every minute provides him with a different opening to say, “No,” and he’s probably going to try it on every last one of them.
So what do you do when your toddler starts pushing the edge of every bedtime envelope?
- Stand your ground
You’ll inevitably be tempted to give in a little when your toddler starts to kick up a fuss, in the interest of keeping the peace, but resist the urge. Giving in to even a small demand will set an unwanted precedent and teach your toddler that fussing and fighting yields results.
On the other side of the coin, don’t reward good behavior with later bedtimes, extra stories, or other bedtime perks. Bedtime is bedtime, and any deviation from it will just lead to further demands, and when your toddler can’t get more lenience from good behavior, he’ll eventually try to get it from bad behavior.
- Give him some options
Although you need to maintain your authority, it’s a good idea to leave some decisions up to your toddler. Giving him some choices, like what PJs he’d like to wear to bed, or what story he wants to read, lets him feel like he’s got some say in the process, without you giving up the fundamental points like whether or not to take a bath, or what time to turn the lights out.
- Don’t take it personally
One vital thing to bear in mind when this behavior starts is that your child is not intentionally disrespecting you, or attempting to push your buttons. He’s just starting to understand cause-and-effect, and he’s going to experiment relentlessly with different actions to see what the results are.
When you start to feel disrespected or mistreated, close your eyes, take a deep breath and acknowledge the fact that this is just your toddler’s way of exploring this newfound world of action and reaction.
- Remember who you’re dealing with
These are going to be some trying times, so when you start to get frustrated, remind yourself that you’re working with a child. He’s going to fuss and fight with you, he’s going to act irrationally, and he’s going to drive you a little bit nuts sometimes. Just remember, you’re the grown up here, and it’s your responsibility to rise above the emotions and the stress.
Keep calm, don’t raise your voice, and maintain your composure as best you can. Any display of exasperation or anger will just get your child more excited and therefore less likely to go to sleep.
These strategies aren’t going to take effect overnight, so don’t give up hope if your toddler is still testing the fences after a few weeks. The most important thing to keep in mind is that kids don’t just need boundaries; they crave them.
Rules and routines give a your child a sense of certainty and stability in their lives. They may act like they want to make the rules, but given the opportunity, they feel lost and overwhelmed.
Also, if you’re looking for a complete, step-by-step guide that will help you get your child sleeping 11+ hours a night you can check out The Sleep Sense Program by clicking below.