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  • Jessica Berk

5 Ways You’re Making Toddler Bedtime Worse | What To Do Instead

The mysterious, often chaotic world of toddler bedtime is a realm where logic takes a backseat and bedtime stories turn into never-ending sagas. If you've ever found yourself negotiating with a three-foot-tall dictator at 8 PM, or if your child's bedtime routine resembles a mix of a circus act and a diplomatic summit, then you're in the right place! 

Sleep training is not for the faint of heart. Let’s explore 5 ways you’re unintentionally making bedtime worse and the solutions that will help you turn it all around.


>>Watch this blog on my Awesome Little Sleepers YouTube channel! 👇


Toddler bedtime mistake number 1: You’re giving too much attention for bad behavior

You have to realize how important your attention is to your kids. It’s like GOLD to them. It’s the reason why they’re always wanting to show us new tricks, new artwork, new things they’ve learned. When your child gets your undivided attention and can genuinely get a rise out of you, they feel powerful. 

Positive attention might come during the day when they show you how they learned to kick a soccer ball and you high five them. They feel proud and accomplished.

But negative attention from you, especially while sleep training, can be JUST as impactful. 

Let’s say your kid refuses to sit in your lap to read a book, although you try to be patient and nicely ask them to come sit down. 

Eventually your patience runs out. Maybe you raise your voice or start a countdown that we all know will never get to zero . Maybe you give a short chase around the bed before scooping them up and trying to force them to sit down. Look how much attention you’re giving your child! 

Even though this is negative attention, look at how much power and control they now have over the situation. This negative attention strengthens behavior just like positive attention does. 

So if your bedtime routine is filled with examples of negative attention, you can stop wondering why things aren’t getting better! Instead, lay on the praise for the good things that your child does through the routine and ignore the negative. The less attention it gets from you, the better. 

Toddler bedtime mistake number 2: Bedtime lacks boundaries

Boundaries are limits or expectations we put in place to keep our kids safe, healthy, and on track. I like to think of boundaries like bumpers at a bowling alley. Without bumpers, your kids (the bowling ball) have no chance of making it where they need to go (the pins). They’ll fall into the gutter every time. 

The bumpers are what help keep them on the right path. Bedtime needs bumpers. Your kid needs some freedom and the ability to make some choices at bedtime (the way a bowling ball may roll right or left down the alley) but you, the parent, have to be the bumpers. 

Because the end goal (the pins) is lights out at an age-appropriate time. Without boundaries at bedtime, kids can stall and stall and stall, pushing bedtime way past their ideal bedtime – making falling asleep that much harder. 

Toddler bedtime mistake number 3: Pushing bedtime later so they’re more tired

When it comes to sleep training, parents can be just as bad at stalling bedtime as kids can. I get it. If you know that putting your kid to bed is going to start WWIII, you’re in no hurry to get started! 

But the idea that things will be easier if you put your child to bed later is 100% false. 

Kids under 6 years old should be asleep by 8 PM. When bedtime starts too late, their bodies get a rush of cortisol that actually gives them energy to fight sleep even harder. Waiting longer makes bedtime more difficult for everyone, and the late night cortisol rush can negatively affect the quality of sleep your child gets once they do fall asleep. 

If you’ve got a kid that wakes up before 6 AM, this late bedtime is the culprit. 

Toddler bedtime mistake number 4: An inconsistent routine

Kids thrive on routine. Consistency during their day and knowing what to expect makes them feel secure. The same is true for the bedtime routine. The easier, quicker, and more enjoyable bedtime routines are exactly that - routine! 

With a consistent routine, kids and parents know what to expect and can move through the steps easily, for example: put on PJS, brush teeth, potty, read 2 books, sing 1 song, lights out. 

Problems come in when the routine is all over the place, and either the steps are inconsistent or out of order. Sometimes we skip teeth, sometimes we go say good night to mom downstairs before we sing, sometimes we read 3 books. Sometimes one parent may have a totally different routine than the other. 

The reason this is an issue is that children can’t learn what to expect. They get confused or upset or ask for more when things aren’t going the way they expect because there’s no sense of knowing what comes next. Feeling totally out of control isn’t calming or reassuring to kids.

Most families have a ‘bedtime routine’ that’s become more of an aspiration than a reality. I hear it all the time: "We’ve had the same bedtime routine for 2 years, but my kid just won’t follow along with it!!"

Well, that’s not a routine! 

To establish a good routine, try talking to your child and mapping out a plan that everyone will enjoy so you can make a routine your reality. 

Toddler bedtime mistake number 5: Diverting off course

My favorite saying about parenting: give an inch and they’ll take a mile! As I’ve said, kids thrive on routine. Once you get in a good bedtime rhythm, you have to stick with it. If you always read 2 books before bed and your child asks for a 3rd book, it’s perfectly okay for you to say “No, we only read 2 books at bedtime. But let's add that one to the pile for tomorrow night.” This is a great example of boundaries.

It may seem like a small thing to add extra steps when your kid’s had a really good day, but it’s these little changes in routine that start to get kids curious about what else they can ask for. 

And, trust me, you don’t want the bumpers coming off the bedtime routine.

This isn’t to say you can never change it. If you want to change it, do it intentionally and not in the moment. Here’s how: if your child keeps asking for 3 books, you could talk to her during the day and say, “You’re always asking for 3 books at bedtime. I’m okay reading 3, but we have to take something else out of the bedtime routine or it’s going to take too long. Are you okay skipping our lullabies or starting bedtime earlier so we can read 3 books?” This makes her feel heard and gives her some power to make choices but keeps the bumpers firmly in place!

To learn more about bedtime and those dreaded overnight wake ups, join me in my next free toddler sleep masterclass.


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