Sitting in the driver’s seat of the car, my forehead pressed against my hands which clenched the wheel beneath them.
My sweet baby girl wailed in the back seat of the car. With each subsequent breath, her cries pierced deeper and deeper into my ear drum. Adding to the fun, my toddler son sat behind me kicking the seat shouting, “Mama, mama. Baby, crying!”
I was sleep deprived from toddler tantrums at bedtime and being up several times per night with a baby. I was exhausted and it was only 9:30 am. Even more pitiful, I hadn’t even left the house yet.
So far I only managed to get myself and the kids in the car. As I sat there clenching the steering wheel, two thoughts pounced around my brain like ping pong balls:
- I was promised there would be more sleep!
- Why isn’t there more sleep?!
Toddler bedtime struggles are real.
A recent online survey conducted by Healthdirect Australia revealed that the biggest struggle new parents face is parental sleep deprivation and helping kids sleep.
Maybe it’s bedtime negotiation.
Maybe it’s a late bedtime.
Maybe it’s night waking.
Maybe it’s early morning waking.
No matter your sleep struggle, you are not alone. Readers from all over the world regularly write and share their struggles with me about sleep. It’s challenging to decide what sleep choices are right for your family!
Today I would like to talk toddler tantrums at bedtime, late bedtimes, and practical solutions to help achieve an happy bedtime for your child.
What time should kids go to bed?
When deciding an appropriate bedtime for your child there are several things to consider:
- What is a time that will work well for your family? For example, if you eat dinner as a family at 6 pm, then 6:30 or 7 pm might not work that well for you. Perhaps, 7:30 pm or 8:00 is more realistic.
- What time does your child need to wake up in the morning? If your child needs to wake up at 5 am for daycare because you are a working parent, then an earlier bedtime might help your child get the sleep his developing body needs.
- How much sleep does your child need based on their age and individual needs? Stick with me, I’ll help answer this question next.
How much sleep do kids really need?
In our home, focusing on average sleep needs by age helps immensely when making decisions about sleep. For example, if we know that an average 2 year old needs 12-14 hours of sleep per day, it helps us gauge what is a reasonable bedtime for him.
If your child needs 10 hours of sleep per night and wakes up at 6 am, then a 8 pm bedtime might work for you.
If your child needs 12 hours of sleep per night and wakes up at 7 am, then a 7 pm is likely ideal.
Tips to help kids get to bed on time.
1. Essential oils
Essential oils are a great way to create a calm and relaxing mood before bedtime, helping kids wind down. Perfect for toddler tantrums around bedtime. We love to diffuse lavender or peace and calming about an hour before bedtime to set the tone. Some days we place 2-3 drops of lavender essential oil on sea salt and drop into the bathwater to help our toddler relax.
2. Bedtime routine.
Studies show that a consistent bedtime routine helps cue children for sleep, as it initiates the bodies release of melatonin (nature’s sleep regulation hormone). Keep the routine simple enough to complete each night before bed.
If you are struggling to get your child to cooperate with a routine, we love using these printable bedtime routine cards. This is a super easy way to help kids feel independent and in-control during the bedtime routine.
— Print the bedtime routine cards.
–Arrange in the order of your choosing.
–Hang in the hallway or in your child’s room.
–Help them follow along with the routine each night.
Anytime you are making changes with sleep, there is often resistance. Resistance does not necessarily mean your parenting choice is incorrect. Change is hard. For kids. For parents. For everyone. Do your research, make a plan, then stay consistent for at least one – two weeks. Then make adjustments and follow your instincts.
4. Choose a bedtime.
Based on the printable chart above, decide what is an appropriate bedtime for your child. For our family, 7:30 pm works best for us. It gives our family enough time to have dinner together, have quality family time together, and do our bedtime routines with the kids. This doesn’t mean 7:30 pm is right for everyone.
Here are 3 things I consider when choosing a bedtime:
–What time will my kids wake up in the morning?
–How much overnight sleep do my kids need?
–What is a realistic bedtime given our family’s work and mealtime schedules?
5. Deep breathing.
There are all sorts of different ways to help kids settle down before bedtime. Deep breathing is one technique I keep in my back pocket when I need it.
Here’s how to use this technique:
–Hug your child while in a sitting position.
–Start deep breathing.
–No instructions are needed for your child.
–Simply continue deep breathing.
If you are interested in reading a bit more science behind why this technique works, I talk about it here: One Simple Trick to Help Kids Fall Asleep Fast
6. Get out of bed one time rule.
This is fabulous technique explored in the book Parenting With Love And Logic.
The concept is simple:
–Children must go to their rooms at “bedtime.”
–They may stay awake until they are ready for bed.
–Quiet books (or perhaps quiet toys) ONLY in bed.
–Children may come out of their room only ONCE to say goodnight and get a drink, go potty, ask a question, etc.
–Once they come out of their room, they are choosing “lights out.”
7. The hour leading up to bedtime.
The hour before bedtime sets the tone. Dim the lights in your home, turn the TV and all screen time off. This is a perfect time to connect with kids, reading books and doing other quiet time activities.
Kids who use screen time before bed are more likely to struggle with bedtime and falling asleep at a reasonable hour.
Bonus Tip: Only use a red night light.
Using a white or blue nightlight is a surefire way to keep kids awake. Choosing a red, yellow, or orange light is better is because they don’t emit daytime light frequencies. Blue, green and white lights send your body “daytime” light messages, making you more likely to stay awake.
Getting kids to stay in bed
Once you get your child to an earlier bedtime. You might be wondering how in the world to keep them in bed. It’s challenging.
There isn’t a perfect solution, but in our home we continue walking our child back to bed over and over again while using calm and reassuring phrases.
If you’ve thought it through, made a plan, know your child’s sleep needs, and know an age-appropriate bedtime, feel confident continuing to take your child back to bed.
Here are examples of simple short simple phrases we use:
We do the same routine each night.
You will see mommy and daddy in the morning.
We love you.
For the first several nights this could take an infinite number of times and it is exhausting. Sometimes there are tears. We stay calm, speak slowly and use a low voice, reminding him that we love him, but it’s bedtime.
He protests. We stay calm. We remind him. After a consistent day or two, he is back to a smooth bedtime routine and sleeping at a reasonable hour.
I released the steering wheel.
As I sat there hanging on for dear life to the steering wheel of my car, a calm washed over me.
The baby continued screaming, my toddler continued kicking, but I changed my tone.
I decided getting the kids from our apartment on the eighth floor down to the car was enough work for now, and I took the kids back upstairs.
I let my toddler watch an episode of Sesame Street. I put my baby down for a nap. And I ate a donut and drank a cup of coffee.
Parenting is exhausting.
Sleep deprivation is heinous.
Sometimes you have to forgive yourself, take a breather, and make a plan to get sleep back on track.
And so I did.
You can find the 40+ printable routine cards we use in our home here.