You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

Toddler bedtime blues

Time for that nap!  Don’t miss the window for naps….toddlers need naps to sleep well at night!  Establish good sleep routines for naps and night-time!

It was 8:30,  I was tired, and my 2-year-old seemed to be gearing up for the evening.  My patience was short and soon everyone ended up melting down.  Not a very pleasant way to end the day!  I hated when an evening in our home ended in a melt down!  I always felt like such a terrible Mom, but evenings like that made me re-group and remember that naps, early bedtimes and calming routines were the cornerstone to good sleep for everyone.  Besides, when the kids were in bed early, I always had time to take a breather, visit with Brad and reward myself with a bowl of ice cream for making it through another day!

Often children are sleeping pretty well as they enter the toddler years, and then it seems that overnight, bedtime becomes a battle.  So many parents will tell me that their toddler “must not require much sleep” because they can’t get them to sleep in the evening.  Soon the pattern becomes a toddler who is up until late, a parent that has no down time, and a household that is stressful every evening.  The fact is, toddlers need about 13 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.  Without that sleep, tantrums increase, whining becomes the norm, and a toddler’s day is not filled with discovery and play but frustration and tears.   These are some reasons families with toddlers often develop “bedtime blues”.

  • If a toddler is  not sleeping enough—they are harder to get to sleep consistently.  How hectic are your days?  If he is over scheduled or over stimulated you might want to slow it down for sleep’s sake.  When a child is constantly on the go, it is hard to settle down for sleep.  We need positive associations with sleep, not negative ones brought on by tantrums, yelling and harshness prior to bedtime.
  • Separation anxiety is a true toddler fear, often this separation anxiety is the start of sleep problems during the toddler years.
  • Toddlers are exploring control and testing.  Your child will test to see if bed time is negotiable!  Sometimes a tired parent will give in pretty easily setting the precedent for the following nights.
  • Toddlers don’t want to miss anything!  They realize that life goes on when they are napping or sleeping.
  • Most parents underestimate their child’s need for sleep.  Toddlers need between 13 and 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.  An increase in tantrums, whining, crying, even misdiagnosis of hyperactivity can come from a child who is chronically sleep deprived. Toddlers are wired “early to bed, early to rise” !
  • Sleep is a health issue.  Parents need to control this health issue just like you do routine health care.  You wouldn’t let a child eat whatever they want for dinner, and you shouldn’t let a child decide his or her own bedtime.  Sleep is a basic need like food or clothing, and you are the parent!
  • There is no research that shows that letting a toddler fuss it out to sleep causes any psychological damage.  A child who is consistently loved and cared for during the day will thrive, even if there are several nights of “crying it out” to go to sleep.

So what is a parent to do?

1.  Watch your toddler’s behavior and do not let them become overly tired.  Remember that an overly tired toddler has a difficult time going to sleep and staying to sleep.  Usually, a toddler should not be up longer than a 5 hour stretch.  If your toddler rises at 7:30 in the morning, he or she will be ready for a nap about 12:30.  There should be about 5 hours between the nap wake time and bedtime.  So a toddler that sleeps from 12:30 to 2:00 or 2:30 is ready for bed by about 7:30 in the evening.

2.  Create a reasonable bedtime routine.  The routine should be calming and repeatable each evening.  Don’t let this routine take on a life of its own!  Thirty minutes of bedtime preparation is all that is needed.  A routine that is predictable will help your toddler calm down and know that bedtime is near.  This routine should include calming the house about an hour before bed by dimming the lights and turning off the TV.  Establish a routine that both you and your child enjoys.  This routine might include taking a bath, brushing teeth, cuddling and reading a story, singing a song, saying prayers, talking about the day and planning tomorrow, providing a “lovey”, and giving another snuggle before leaving the room.

3.  After the routine, your child may call or cry for you.  Be strong and consistent.  You can peek in and tell your child that it is night-time and time to sleep, but do not go back and rock and comfort to sleep.  Your child will learn to fall asleep on his or her own.  This is a learned skill, and an important one!  Give your child suggestions.  “You don’t have to sleep, just read your books or snuggle with your bear.”  Leave a night-light on if necessary.

4.  Establishing a sleep routine usually takes about three to four  nights of consistency.  Parents need to be on the same page and tackle this as a team!  Do not confuse your child with two different approaches to sleep.  Make a plan, and stick to it.  Remember that sleep is a health issue, you are being a good parent!

If you establish good sleep habits with your toddler, your daytime hours will be much more fun!  It is amazing how the “terrible twos” may just become terrific if you have a child that is not overly tired.

More to come….how to handle specific night-time challenges!

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.



  1. Bedtime is a mess for us! I feel horrible when my son has reached the ‘tantrum point’. He always has a burst of energy when I get home from work around 7.. and then trying to transition into the calm, quiet bedtime routine is difficult. Why don’t 4 year olds want to sleep as much as their parents do?! 🙂


    • I wish we could convince 4 year olds that sleep is wonderful! I imagine that your 4 year old is on “over drive” when you get home from work. You might try to have a later “rest time” for him during the day. Most 4 year olds won’t nap, but a down time about 2:00 or so where he lies down and reads or colors quietly may allow him to rest and occasionally even take a cat nap so that he is not overly tired by 7. I am sure if you are getting home at 7, bedtime is not for a couple hours after, so he needs that rest or cat nap to help him over the hump until bedtime. Take a breath when you walk in and try not to feel rushed to “get it all done” when you get home. The calmer you are….the calmer the evening will be and the more enjoyable your time with your son will be. Parenting is a true balancing act…:) Good luck and enjoy the wonderful age of 4! Cindy


  2. Reblogged this on momknowsbetter and commented:
    Why is bedtime so difficult!?


  3. Gina erickson

    Hi Cindy at 5 we eat dinner, then bath, then sometimes we just chill or watch a show, by 615-630 we brush teeth go potty, then separate rooms to read a book or two, then they like to rub backs or rock. Usually till asleep, bri keeps waking up to be rocked to sleep and wakes Sophia up if when we let her cry. So bed by 7 sleep till 6/7. Refuse naps during the day, Bri might crash for 15 mins in the car but will not lay down to sleep they’ve always been like they not wanting to sleep or not over 30. But they are so moody and ready to melt between 3-5. They are in school from 9-3 with a nap time at 1230, which has been an issue with them refusing, but being wound up. So they try anymore, and they did for the first 4/5 weeks. What do I need to tweak? We (brad &i) dread bedtime, especially with bri who will try every excuse in the book to delay me leaving. She always has to be with me, and only wants me, to the point if I’m in the house and anybody wants to help her if she wants something or is upset she screams the house down. So seperation anxiety for sure. Advice?


  4. Jolene

    Help! My 2 and a half year old was a FANTASTIC napper until last week. We got back late one day and since he had already slept in the car, I let him have “Quiet Time” with his older sister in the playroom. (I know- big mistake!) Since that day, he will scream hysterically whenever I lay him down for at least 45 minutes. Then he fell and got stitches in his chin a few days ago, so I feel bad letting him scream, so I started rubbing his forehead until he falls asleep, at least 20 minutes. But I know I shouldn’t keep doing that. My husband says we should just give up on naps and move his bedtime up, but I think he really needs his naps still! Is my only option letting him cry it out?


    • Sounds like you have had a difficult week! I would sit in the room with your hand on his back for a couple of days. Do not talk except for saying “It is nap time shhhh” if he says something. Do not look at him, no more words than that. Stay until he sleeps. Then move your chair to the door for 2 days. Same words…no other talking. If he cries, just sit there. After 45 minutes or so, get him up if he does not sleep and put him to bed early. The next couple of days tell him that you are leaving and it is nap time, you will check on him in a minute. Go in and out and let him cry if he is. Get him up in 45 min if there is no sleep and put him to bed early. I would start a sticker chart that he receives a sticker if he stays in bed and “reads” quietly until you come get him. You should be able to break the string of bad days with this. Let me know how it goes!!! TGIF!


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