Q: Did your toddlers resist bedtime? And how long will this phase last? We have had to stay in the room or bring our 2yo daughter into bed. She refuses to get into the cot, tries several delaying tactics – keep asking for milk top ups, make us get this get that… then when she finally gets in she will scream and stand.

I have a 2 year old too so I KNOW what this mom is talking about. I’ve done the 2 year old stage twice before as well.

Even though they are stubborn, defiant, and bossy, they are just so cute and funny. 2 year old is my favourite age to parent and to work with hands down!

How do we tackle this bedtime resistance?

What I’ve come to realise when it comes to eliciting cooperation from a toddler is to first give them what they want.

What do toddlers this age want? Number one, they want connection and our attention. They demand this, in fact. 

You’re not gonna believe it, but this is the secret sauce.

Connecting through a solid bedtime routine is a MUST. If there’s playtime in it then it’s a bonus. 

Playtime as in peek-a-boo, roughhousing, blowing raspberries in their neck or tummy, hide in blanket etc. I HIGHLY recommend playtime because play is the secret language for children. 

Time and time again, when I feel playful and I include this in how I connect with Aliya, my 2yo before she sleeps, it’s very very easy for her to go to sleep. Works like a charm.

Number two, they need to learn boundaries.

Delay tactics such as one last kiss, one last hug, I need to pee, I’m thirsty, more milk and many others have an underlying reason. It’s either they’re craving for connection or they are learning about their place and autonomy in their world.

Say you connect well at bedtime, but this delay tactics happen every night, then ask yourself, have I been giving in to her demands out of reaction (I spoke about choice vs reaction in my previous email) or have I anticipated the requests and respond appropriately?

Let’s say she wants more songs, tell her ok, one more song and this is the last. When she asks for more, simply say “no more songs sweetie”.

If she asks for more milk top-ups, then when she’s having her milk remind her that this is the only milk she will drink and there will be no more milk until tomorrow morning. When she asks for a top-up, simply say “you’ve just had your milk and your next milk is in the morning”.

If she says she’s thirsty, prepare a sippy cup nearby her cot or bedside. 

You get the idea right?

By the way, this ONLY works if you stay in integrity with what you just said. If you said it’s the last song, then it’s REALLY the last song.

Number three, how much autonomy is given to her to choose the outcome of the bedtime routine? 

Does she get to exercise her autonomy by giving her 2-3 choices on books, letting her switch off the light, saying goodnight to all other family members in the house?

I find that the more we let toddlers choose the outcome (by us providing the options), the more content they are with themselves.

Number four, they need to feel safe.

Nobody can fall asleep with the feeling that their safety is at risk. I notice that around this age, they start to express fear. Aliya communicates this by saying “I’m scared”. It comes up quite often at bedtime as well but as long as we respond appropriately, such as leaving the dim light on (a toddler clock works great) or lots of giggles at bedtime routine, this helps to release some tension and fear in their body.

Never ever say “don’t be scared, there’s nothing to be scared of”. Their fear is real. By saying that you are minimizing their feelings. 

Instead, say “I hear you sweetie, you feel scared. It’s okay, I’m right here. You are safe and I’ll be here until you fall asleep”.

Number five, be patient and ride through this phase.

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this saying – The days are long but the years are short. It is soo true! I look at my 11yo and 8yo and I really really miss their little beings. I seriously don’t remember much about the hardship, only the good memories.

So with the toddlers, just love them and accept that this is part of parenting young children. There will be good days and there will be not so good days. They need us so much, they can drive us bonkers, I know that. 

Choosing to move to your attention that they genuinely need our help and not to purposely make our life difficult would be the best place to start.