Bedtime Problems…



Children need a good night’s sleep.  Parents also need a good night’s sleep as well as some child-free time to ensure that their own needs are being met. As parents, our goal is to establish healthy, independent sleep patterns for our children.  Some children will go to bed without a fuss. However, there is always that child who refuses to go to bed! As parents, this can be very frustrating times.

Bedtime problems may be occurring in your home for different reasons.  When your child was an infant, you had likely rocked her to sleep or fed him until he fell asleep.  Your child has learnt this pattern for sleep time. Now that your child is through the infant stage, he needs to learn to go to sleep independently. This can be very stressful for your toddler, and yourself!  Perhaps your toddler has learnt that when he screams or cries, mom or dad will come rushing in to sooth him and remove him from the crib/bed.  This provides no reason for that toddler to stay in bed, as he has learnt that mom or dad will take me out to cuddle or play. If you continually give in to your child’s screams and cry’s (providing your baby is fed, watered, and clean), your child will not learn to fall asleep independently.

How to help prevent bed time problems:

  • Make sure your toddlers room is comfortable
  • Set a regular bedtime. Common bedtimes for toddlers is between 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm
  • Establish a bed time routine.
  • Prepare your child ahead of time.
  • Take your child to bed.
  • Say good night and then promptly leave.  Ignore all cries!
  • Encourage good behaviours.  When your child wakes up in the morning, praise her for sleeping so well and following the bed time routine. Consider having a surprise ready for them if they get to bed smartly and sleep through the night without a complaint.  If your child does wake to use the washroom but promptly goes back to bed, this is a good thing!

Teach your child to stay quietly in bed:

  • Explain what will happen.  Tell your child what will happen when they stay in bed quietly – If you are quiet and in bed, I will come back to check on you OK.  Make sure that your child understands this concept.  Leave promptly and ignore all call outs.
  • Praise your child.  If your child manages to keep quiet in bed after 2 minutes, return and praise them in a soft, calm voice.  Do not stay in the room any longer than 30 seconds. Return after 5 minutes and praise again if the child is compliant. Continue this routine, and eventually your child will go to bed without a fuss.

Dealing with problems at bedtime:

  • Using a Direct Approach: This is not responding to your child’s protests.  Your child will learn to fall asleep on their own.  If you use this approach, DO NOT go to your child once you have said goodnight and left them to fall asleep.

o   Explain to your child what will happen. If you stay in your bedroom all night, there will be a surprise for you in the morning.  If you call out or cry, I will not answer you, even if you shout. If you come out of your room, I will put your back and close the door. Make sure that your child understands.  Say goodnight and leave promptly.  Stick to your guns and ignore any requests or complaints.

o   Use Planned Ignoring.  Do not say anything to your child, and do not return to their room. Be prepared for crying.  The first few nights, children can cry anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. You must be prepared to let your child cry himself to sleep. If you do go to your child, you can make things worse – your child may cry longer and louder to get you to return. This may seem like a long haul ahead, but if you stick to the plan, your child will learn to go to bed happily and fall asleep independently.

  • Using a Gradual Approach: This will provide an opportunity for you to check on your child to reassure yourself that they are alright.

o   Wait before you return to your child.  Do not return right away if your child cries. Let them have a chance to settle themselves.  Return after 2 minutes.  Give your child a gentle pat, lie them down, and remind them it is time to go to sleep.  Leave after 1 minute. Your child may still be crying.  Your goal is reassurance, not necessarily stopping the crying. Gradually extend the amount of time between check ins. It is ok to not check in if your child starts to settle down.

o   Keep to your time schedule.

o   Keep Track.

  • Using a Gentle Approach: This can be used for younger toddlers. It encourages your child to settle at night time or during quiet times throughout the day.

o   Put your child in their bed at your regular time. Say goodnight and lie down or sit in a chair in the same room.

o   Avoid eye contact and pretend to be sleeping.  Continue this until your child falls asleep.

o   If your child wakes, return and pretend to sleep with them in their room.

o   Do not attend to your child if he screams or cries (unless ill or in danger).

o   Gradually move the chair closer to the door and eventually out of the room.

Your child keeps getting out of bed! Now what!

  • Return your child to his bed. Stay calm and immediately return them to their bed. Ignore all protests.
  • Close your child’s door. If your child continues to come out of bed, return them to bed and close the door, or place up a child’s gate.  You can open the door again if your child has been quiet and in bed for 2 minutes.  This will teach your child that it is better to stay in bed with the door open than with the door closed.
  • If you cannot or choose not to close the door, immediately return your child to their bed every time they leave their room. Stay calm and do not talk to your child. You may need to repeat this several times before your child learns the routine.

My child keeps getting in bed with me!

  • Immediately return them to their own bed
  • Spend no more than 30 seconds settling your child
  • If your child returns to your bed, immediately return them to their bed and this time close the door.
  • Ignore all protests

My child keeps crying out at night!

  • If your toddler is not in pain or ill, then give very little attention to their cries.
  • Too much play or comfort can accidently reward your child for crying.
  • Be consistent with your routine!

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