I have a 2.5 year old who is not much of a sleeper - as in, he sleeps on normal days from 10pm to 6am, plus a 2 hour nap on weekdays and sometimes on weekends. We have a fairly good bedtime ritual, although the times aren't always exact (we have a 10 month old, and both work, so we can't be perfect with times unfortunately).

  • 8:30 to 9: go upstairs, change diaper and into pajamas. Take one or two toys - not much of a stuffed animal guy, more into trains/trucks/cars.
  • Brush teeth
  • Read 3-4 books
  • Turn off lights
  • Turn on 'nightlight' (either a truck light or a turtle that shines on the ceiling)
  • Sing songs for about 10 minutes ('wheels on the bus' type things, whatever he asks for)
  • Sit quietly next to his bed in a rocking chair while he lies down and falls asleep

This works well 95% of the time. He might argue some, but usually goes to bed nicely. However, occasionally (I think when he is either overtired or had a modification to his time schedule so that he's not tired yet) we have extremely difficult times getting him to bed.

Specifically, he will do the usual yell/run around/jump around, and even get somewhat aggressive with us - biting, hitting, etc., which is very unusual for him. We try to deal with this with standard "strong willed child" techniques, such as time out (which he normally does okay with now, even though he's a bit young for it), but they simply don't work - he is too excited and wound up to calm down enough to do a time out. Sometimes giving him some lights-off play time works in this case, but usually it doesn't, because he's not capable of being calm enough for it to work - and it seems like it is rewarding him for bad behavior.

One thing that has worked before was locking him in a room (not his room, as that doesn't have a door currently, either the guest bedroom or a bathroom) until he calms down, but we're not sure that's a good idea from a mental point of view - and it tends to be destructive to the room.

Any suggestions for how we can either effectively enforce our limits here, or blow off the excess steam? We can't usually tell ahead of time if it's going to be an issue, unfortunately; sometimes we can guess but then he goes to sleep perfectly - the line between 'exhausted' and 'overtired' is not always easy to spot.

  • Two and a half is a great age for timeouts. Is it possible that he is transitioning out of needing naps? My eldest gave his up around 3 years and the youngest around 2 years, and the 'symptoms' were similar in terms of insanity at bedtime. We ended naps and moved bedtime up almost two hours and that did the trick.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 18:00
  • He may be. He's currently in daycare, which has naps (or at least 'nap time') up through 4, but he'll be transitioning to stay at home/part time preschool soon, so we may well remove the naps. Moving up bedtime a lot has one major downside; most days I won't get home until 6:30 or so, and so if we move up bedtime from 9:30 to 7:30, he won't get almost any 'daddy time' - although at least with my wife staying at home he'll get a lot more mommy time to make up for it.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 18:03
  • My comment about being too young for timeout is from several parenting books/resources suggesting 3 is the earliest time outs should start; I'm not sure if that's considered gospel but certainly seems to be in a lot of things I read.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 18:12

3 Answers 3


Actually, your child's behavior is perfectly sound... 95% of the time going to bed on time is great. Doesn't it happen to everyone, that every now and then, we go to sleep somewhat later than the usual?

My point being - your limits are well respected by your child (and you can be proud of it). As @Ossum'sMom mentioned, the child certainly doesn't do it out of bad intentions, neither tries to get some reward for that behavior.

I definitely reject timeouts, or any other sort of punishment, for this kind of behavior. Your child does respect your limits. You say for yourself that it might happen because he's too tired. In such a condition, he won't be able to understand why do you punish him.

Tell you what, it's actually the other way around. Because of the unstable condition of the child when he's overtired, this is when your affection is needed most. Moreover, it's a chance for your relationship to get stronger since you're there for him when needed most.

So, Take a deep breath, knowing this time you should give the child an extra mile. Read with him another book, run and jump around with him without hard feelings - be happy with him. It's OK! His feelings should go: "hey! my parent understands me".

Only if and when you suspect it becomes a habit (which you consider not desirable) - you should handle it otherwise.

Just another thought, sometimes the child might be in tension since he knows your expectation of him to go to sleep, of which he knows he's currently incapable.

  • Hmm, that does make sense thinking of it that way.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 1:14


Find a time for him to blow off the excess steam earlier in the day. Maybe he's not getting enough running around at his daycare. You can't do it once you've put him to bed, though, that will just wind him up further.

Can you find a calming book on tape for toddlers? Or music? Just for these crazy nights, once it has started to happen? Put him in bed, turn it on and sit next to his door reading. My thought is, the story should attract his attention, so he won't be interested in running around, and sitting calmly to listen will help calm his mind. But the rule is, he can only listen if he stays in bed and doesn't try to talk to you.

I know it also seems a little like "rewarding him for bad behavior" except it seems clear he's not doing this because he wants to but because he can't help himself.

  • That's something I've thought of. The difficulty, as with many of the things I have tried, is enforcement; when he's like this, telling him 'the rule is...' doesn't seem to make a difference, and there isn't much I can do punitively that's reasonable and yet works. It's possible an audiobook will catch his attention more than other things; I should look for a good site for those for kids.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 17:22
  • Understood. They are not in very good control of themselves at this age; their brain and nervous system are still developing. Sometimes what happens, happens. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 17:31

Really feel for you, know exactly what that's like! Generally seen this to be short term if you can get an early handle on it.

The 'locked room' method is absolutely ok - seriously, as long as he cant hurt himself, its fine. If at all possible try to remove the things that will get damaged or put them out of reach. He will soon understand that causing a fuss won't get him attention.

Might also suggest shortening or rearranging times to make it a more definite "sleep time now" as it kinda sounds like a stop and start with the toys, reading and songs. Maybe read a couple books or sing songs before going upstairs.

Just a thought...

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