Q: The battle lines are drawn at bedtime every night with my 2-year-old. What can I do to get him to bed and keep him there so everyone in our family can enjoy a good night's rest?
A: Most toddlers resist going to bed. After all, they don't want to separate from you or miss out on the action going on in the rest of the household. Toddlers also are beginning to test your limits and may say no to almost anything you ask of them.
While it can be a tricky time for both of you, there are steps you can take to help ensure you and your child will both get a good night's sleep. One key element is to establish a predictable bedtime routine. A warm bath or a short story (even the same one every night) will help convey to your child that it's now time to sleep. For some children, a comfort object, like a blanket or stuffed animal, can help them separate from you. My daughter liked to suck her thumb and rub a cotton ball on her nose! Whatever comforts your child can help him ease into bedtime. Your goal is to have him settled down and quiet so he can go to sleep on his own.
But what if you've tried these ideas and are still having trouble? It could be that your child is getting too much sleep. A toddler typically needs nine to 13 hours of sleep daily. This includes naps as well as nighttime sleep. If your child is taking long naps, it may be helpful to make them shorter so that he's more ready for bed in the evening. Also, watch your child for signs of sleepiness and then use those signs to set his regular bedtime. This can help ensure you're setting a realistic bedtime for him.
It may take a few tries before your bedtime routine becomes established. In the meantime, have a plan for dealing with the stalling tactics your child may try. Help him find quiet activities that he can play on his own for up to 20 minutes after your usual bedtime routine. At the end of this time, firmly state that it's time to go to sleep and tuck him into bed. If he protests, ignore the pleas and crying for a short period of time. Then return to his room to check on him and reassure him everything is all right. Do this quickly, say goodnight, and leave the room again. You can continue this, and stretch the time between checks, until your child falls asleep. It should only take a few nights before your child understands that you are serious about bedtime.
I know this can be a trying time for a family, but the benefits of establishing a routine will become apparent when your child goes to sleep on his own.