Things to do when your kid won't let you out of the room.
Here’s the scenario: you’ve all had a long day, you’re tired and you’re totally ready for your toddler to go to bed for the night. You do the bath, the PJs, brush teeth (maybe), read a story, sing a quick song, pick a new stuffed animal…then you go to put your toddler into their crib and your sweet child stands there and screams at the top of their lungs!
It might catch you off guard. It might be something new. You’ve entered a new phase of growth. I promise it’s normal for a toddler to scream and protest at bedtime.
Why does my toddler scream?
Here's what's going on: Your toddler is learning! Toddlers are learning how to do things, how to get things and what's expected of them. They want to have all the independence in the world, but have no idea what to do with it. For instance, your toddler wants to run free in a parking lot filled with cars...do you let him? Of course not! Your little one likely doesn't understand cause and effect...the same thing goes for bedtime when your toddler would rather be playing and having a good time with you than go to bed!
What do you do when your toddler screams at bedtime?
As parents, it's up to us to set limits.
We can fall all too easily into the trap of letting our child run the home. I mean, they are incredibly needy and can’t do much for themselves right? But as parents, we know what is best for our child (aka they need to sleep to function…) and we have our own sleep needs as well. Setting limits helps us to meet our own needs in addition to the needs of our child when they can’t meet those needs (or even recognize them) themselves.
So how do we set these limits?
It can become a bit of a dance, but it all starts with a firm, predictable routine. Each night, do the same routine so it is clear to your child that bedtime is approaching and they will be sleeping soon. Taking a bath, getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, etc. are some things that can be a part of your routine.
Here’s where the fun comes in! Since toddlers are discovering their independence, they are likely to want to gain control of every situation they can, which can be a part of the reason why they are struggling with bedtime. The key to dodging big power struggles is to give your child bit-sized bits of control throughout the evening. What do I mean? Consider this. Your child cannot choose whether or not they want to go to bed, but they can choose if they want the red blanket or the green one. See what I mean? If your child is given the chance to make age-appropriate decisions, they will feel more in control. Let them choose the bedtime story or the song you sing to them. Allow them some independence in the smaller things while standing firm in the big picture.
Once your child feels like they have some control, it will be easier to enforce the limits you’ve set surrounding bedtime. One of these limits should be a specific set bedtime, and can also include expectations such as reading only one story, singing just one song, etc. Being firm but gentle with your child will send the message that this is a solid rule that they are expected to follow. Of course, with each child and situation, it’s important to use your own judgment. Come up with a plan. Predict what may happen before it occurs and plan out your responses. What will you say if your child cries for you to stay with them? Maybe you settle them in and tell them you’ll check in on them in 10 minutes. Maybe you remind them of what a great day they had and encourage them to think about what to do tomorrow. Maybe you let them cry for a little bit to show them you mean business before checking in on them again. Whatever you choose to do, make the expectations clear. And remember that it is only a season and you won’t be dealing with this forever!
Have you ever been trapped by an overtired toddler? Are you stuck in a rut and can’t figure out what to do next? Schedule a free call with me and I’ll help you troubleshoot!