Prepare for Battle! Toddler and Preschooler Bedtimes

Toddler and Preschooler Bedtimes (toddler takes forever to fall asleep at night)

Is your toddler making a million requests at bedtime to keep you coming back? Have you fallen asleep in your toddler’s room more than once this week? Here are some strategies for making bedtime a little smoother:

Make sure you are asking your toddler to sleep when she’s ready to sleep.

Recent research finds that a toddler’s circadian rhythm drifts later with time. In addition, children are more sensitive to light than adults and evening light exposure drives sleep later. If you try for bedtime at 7:00, but your toddler never falls asleep until 9:00 it’s possible that you are asking your child to sleep at a time when her body is telling her to be awake. To complicate things further, the strongest drive to be awake happens before bedtime, so your toddler may be fully charged and ready to battle you. Try moving bedtime to your child’s fall asleep time to compensate for this biological drift. Also, be sure to keep the lights dim in the evening, because light resets the biological clock.


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Anticipate your child’s needs during the bedtime routine.

If your child requests water or the potty after your bedtime routine, then make sure you have these needs built into your bedtime routine. It’s impossible to be consistent in enforcing bedtime if you haven’t provided your child with everything she needs to be comfortable.

Avoid abrupt transitions.

It may be tempting, but don’t run out of the room as soon as you turn off the light. Toddlers don’t do well with abrupt transitions, so layer your response – turn out the light and then sing a song together in the dark (as a defined part of your routine) before you make your exit.

When the routine is over, it’s over.

Make sure your child understands the routine, by creating a chart or book describing what you do in your routine. Have your child check things off as you complete them and have a clearly defined end.

Don’t give in.

Toddlers do best with clear rules. You want to allow your child to understand that once the bedtime routine is over the expectation is to lay down and sleep. When you respond to some requests, but not others you are giving your child a reason to keep asking. Giving in occasionally might not seem like a big deal, but intermittent rewards are actually the most powerful way to reinforce behavior.

Start with a realistic goal.

If you know that you will not feel comfortable leaving the room and staying out, then plan to make small adjustments that fit your parenting style and your child’s needs. For example, you can use all of the tips that we suggest while making a small change within your child’s room. If you currently lay with your child until she falls asleep, then start your plan using these rules, but sitting on her bed rather than laying next to her. Move to a chair once she’s ok with you being on the bed and leave the room after she’s ok having you in the chair. There can still be rules about what happens before and after the routine even if you are staying in the room with your child.

Don’t say ‘no.’