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How Can I Train my Toddler Not to Throw Tantrums at Bedtime?

Question:

My 2-year-old daughter makes bedtime very difficult. She is stubborn, throws fits and will not calm down, no matter what we try. We have introduced a good-behavior calendar. If she goes to sleep without acting up, she gets a new book to read with us at bedtime. We try to make this as much fun as possible by reading books and telling stories. It never fails that once the fun time is over, she doesn’t want to go to sleep and gets upset. Our 4-year-old son never had a problem at bedtime; I just don’t know what to do.

Answer:

It sounds like your toddler is really testing your limits at bedtime. Even though you didn’t go through this with your son, this bedtime dilemma is very common. Rest assured that bedtime is a learned routine, and it will get better.

You’re doing a lot of positive things already. By incorporating the calendar, you’re reinforcing the good behavior that you want to see more of (going to bed tantrum-free). The expectation of being good for an entire week might just be too long of a time frame for her. See if she responds to a more immediate reward.

Children respond well to structure and predictability, so try to follow the same bedtime routine each and every night. Start with a soothing bath, put on pajamas, read a story, then tuck her in and give lots of goodnight hugs and kisses. During the routine, tell your daughter what’s next, so she’s not surprised. For example during her bath, you might say: “In five minutes, bath time will be over, and then we’ll get our jammies on.” This lets her know each step before it happens. Also make sure that bedtime is the same every single night. This will condition your daughter to be sleepy the same time of day every day.

You may also want to consider eliminating your daughter’s daytime nap (if she’s taking one). A daytime nap may be affecting her ability to sleep at night because she’s not tired. Every child is different, but typically children outgrow naps around 3 years of age. If you’re unsure about whether or not your child still needs a nap, you can contact her pediatrician.

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