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Our daughter is approaching 2 and has consistently had issues with bedtime.

At the mention of bedtime, she will regularly start crying (but still follows me upstairs to bed). In general, one of us takes her upstairs at 7:30 pm, changes her into pajamas, turns off the lights, and turns on her nightlight. Our daughter usually helps with all of these behaviors. We then sing some songs in the dark and I pray that she's fallen asleep.

This always seems to be crap shoot. Either she's conked out and fallen asleep, in which case I can put her down and leave; the whole process taking maybe 30 minutes (out at 8:00 pm). Or she's not asleep at all, and the suggestion of leaving causes her to throw a tantrum that one of us has to mitigate or we have to endure for something in the range of 2 hours plus (she won't fall asleep until 10:00 or later).

If we let her do as she pleases, she would play around downstairs until about 10 pm and then fall asleep on the floor. This isn't acceptable to us for a litany of reasons.

Furthermore, her nighttime sleep pattern is not consistent. She's often prone to waking up at any hour of the night between 1:00 am and 7:00 am.

Is there something we should be doing to break these tantrums? Is there anything we can be doing different to keep her sleeping through the night?

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I have no doubt about the value and effectiveness of @Adam Heeg's answer and have upvoted it. Routine, resolve, and realistic expectations are key.

However, it might be hard to go "cold turkey" with a child accustomed to being so responded to at bedtime.

If you think your child will do better with a softer approach, I recommend "Ferberizing" the child. The Ferber method is basically a controlled comfort method of getting your child to sleep by self soothing, something every two year old child should be capable of doing.*

The basic steps to this method (better explained and outlined here and in the book) are

  • Prepare your baby for sleep with consistent bedtime routines. These can include a 'warning' if old enough to understand, tooth brushing, reading, rocking, and singing.

  • Put the baby down when they are calm/drowsy but not yet asleep. If the baby is drowsy and about to sleep before the routine is over, abbreviate the routine that night and put them down while still awake.

  • Once in the crib, say something ("goodnight/love you/see you in the morning"?) and leave the room.

  • If the baby cries, return to comfort the infant at progressively increasing time intervals with soft words, but without picking them up. (E.g. on the first night, soothe the baby after three minutes of crying, then after five minutes, and then each ten minutes, until the baby is asleep.)

  • On subsequent nights, return at intervals slightly longer than the night before.

There is a routing to follow if the child wakes up during the night as well without picking the child up.

At two years, you have the advantage that your child may already have comfort objects she takes to bed with her (a doll, plush toys, soft/fuzzy blanket, etc.) If she doesn't, please provide her with some.

My son and his wife came up with the brilliant idea that if my grandchild (now two) gets out of bed, the child looses one of her comfort objects upon being put back to bed.

As I said, this is softer than @Adam Heeg's approach, but uses the same principles.

*We didn't Ferberize our first until about a year of age. I personally don't agree with Ferberizing at six months. Babies and toddlers are individuals, not cookie-cutter replicas. Temperament matters.

As far as waking up in the middle of the night, we found this to be a very difficult problem with our kids when beyond the toddler (up to 2) stage, and ended up simply putting mattresses on the floor of our bedroom. The kids learned that they could simply come in and crash with us, sometimes without even waking us up. Eventually they would stop on their own.

  • 1
    Thank you for this answer. We saw measurable changes from our daughter within the first few nights. On the first night, she screamed in my face during the first check-in; calmed down to let me say soothing words on the second check-in; sat down for soothing words on the 3rd check-in; and laid down for soothing on the 4th check-in. Last night (5th night), she was crying a bit, and I checked in on her at the interval, she was already in bed, let me rub her back and give her some soothing words; a kiss good night and she was out without any additional fuss. Worked great! – Pyrotechnical Jun 24 at 14:49
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You can break these tantrums by setting a firm routine. Set a consistent bedtime routine of whatever - bathing, tooth brushing, reading a book, telling a story, hugs and kisses, prayer, etc. Keep it the same every night as much as possible.

Then after that lead up, say good night, explain 1 time only that you will see her in the morning and that she is expected to stay in bed until morning. Anytime she gets out of bed you very calmly, but immediately without talking pick her up and put her back in bed.

That is it, you do it as long as it takes. 2 of my kids it took over 2 hours a night before the quit getting out of bed. One of those kids got the message after 3 nights. The other one, the most stubborn person on earth to this day, took nearly 10 days to finally accept bedtime. The difficult kid is 11 now and still struggles with going to sleep at night but we let her read for up to an hour. Sometimes she lays awake past us going to sleep, but that is okay. In order for us adults to function we need time alone at night with each other, and we need our sleep to be successful at work and other responsibilities.

Note, some kids can have a hard time figuring out when morning, so they may be trying to follow your rules but mistake 2am for 6am or something like that.

Set a routine Verbalize expectations Calmly, immediately, without words return kids to their bed

Spend some extra time during the day and before bedtime re-affirming your love for them and your connection to them as the adjustment will be hard at first.

I believe this is one of the most important early steps in setting the tone for an adult to child relationship.

We struggled with our first kid doing this, it broke our heart to hear her cry. However, it works, the kids survive and learn to thrive in a home with expectations and rules.

EDIT
reading anongoodnurse's answer I forgot, we made sure each kid had their 'blankey'. My 3rd kid never developed one on her own, so we just taught her to attach to a blanket by always asking her where it was. Once she got used to having it around she went to bed easier.

  • "...we just taught her to attach to a blanket by always asking her where it was. Once she got used to having it around she went to bed easier." What a great idea! I love tis site, so much to learn from others. :) – anongoodnurse Jun 18 at 18:33

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