When your toddler won’t go to bed

What to do when you toddler won’t go to bed, with bedtime routine ideas and sleep time tips suggested by mums

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Your toddler won’t go to bed. It’s getting further and further past her bedtime. You know she’ll soon be overtired, and then it’ll be an even tougher task to get her into her own bed and off to sleep. So what’s a parent to do? Try these bedtime routine ideas, sleep solutions and advice on what to avoid when trying to get your toddler to go to bed….

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What to do in the day, to help your toddler go to bed at night

  • Make sure your toddler gets exercise during the day to tire her out.
  • The more attention you give during the day, the less she’ll seek at night.
  • Scale back her afternoon nap by five minutes and get her up 10 minutes earlier in the morning. You might also find you can cut morning naps. We’ve got more advice on toddler naps.
  • Avoid E numbers in food and drink. Anything fluorescent and you’re definitely asking for trouble. Also, don’t overload your child with too much sugar.

Remove bedtime distractions to get your toddler to bed

  • Use blackout blinds in summer.
  • Cover her shelves with curtains or blankets at bedtime to hide all the toys and books so she won’t be tempted to get out of bed and play.
  • For a toddler who keeps getting out of bed, try camping outside her door with a stern face.
  • If your child is clingy at bedtime, let Dad put her to bed to break the cycle, or vice versa.
  • If there’s room sharing siblings, move the good sleeper out until the other child is sorted.

Routines to get your toddler set for bed

  • Have a consistent night-time ritual – like bath, warm milk and story – to enforce strong sleep associations.
  • Work out her bedtime routine in advance so there’s no confusion.
  • Make bedtime fun. Yield to commercial pressure and buy Teletubbies/Spiderman/Hello Kitty pyjamas.
  • If you have battles at bedtime, you and your partner must show a united front.
  • Try using bath products with calming ingredients such as chamomile and lavender.
  • Recite the same poem every night. Familiarity breeds content!
  • Read only a few bedtime stories in a soft monotone so you don’t over-excite your toddler. Also set a limit – try three stories and sleep. If she plays up, the threat of not finishing usually works.
  • With lights out, talk through fun scenarios, such as going to the seaside or the park, and leave her with those good thoughts.
  • Rubbing her temples in a circular motion helps get her sleepy.
  • If she doesn’t have a comforter, encourage it. She won’t feel she’s sleeping alone.
  • Get your child to tell all her toys it’s time to sleep – she may nod off before she finishes!
  • Make a glow-in-the-dark bedtime chart. It works a treat, as your child will be tempted into bed just to watch the stars.

What to avoid if your toddler won’t go to bed

  • Don’t let your toddler watch TV just before bed – it can interfere with sleep. Also, don’t let her watch TV without knowing what’s on. Scary images can haunt toddlers.
  • Steer clear of playing just before bed – she needs to calm down.
  • Don’t let your child get overtired and all hyped up.
  • Don’t shut your child in her room as a punishment. She needs to see it as a safe place.
  • Avoid getting too angry when she wakes in the night or she’ll never settle.
  • Don’t let your child tell you when it’s bedtime!
  • Try not to argue in front of your toddler – it can make children tense.
  • Avoid straying from the bedtime routine unless it’s a very special occasion.
  • Don’t fall prey to the “just one more” ploy. Be firm.
  • Don’t tell your toddler not to be silly if she’s scared. She’ll feel even worse.
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If you feel it’s getting too much, chat to your health visitor. She may have some advice – and in any case, it’s good to talk.

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