How To Conquer Your Two Year Old's Bedtime

Struggling to get your two-year-old to bed? Aren't we all... Sleep consultant, Hadley Seward from Bonne Nuit Baby, gives her advice on how to conquer bedtime!

Putting a two-year-old child to bed is no joke. Whereas bedtime may once have been a  drama-free cuddlefest, all of a sudden it’s turned into never-ending requests for more books, more kisses, more water. All with the bedroom door cracked at a 37-degree angle and the hallway light on all night. Before you know it, your bedtime routine went from a reasonable 20 minutes to an unacceptable 2 hours.

After all, they don’t call it The Terrible Twos for nothing. But this too shall pass--and with a bit of planning, you’ll be in and out like a pro.

A variety of factors converge to disrupt sleep in your child’s second year. For starters, there’s a big sleep regression around 24 months. Plus many developmental changes occur, most notably an increased sense of autonomy, the rise of defiant behaviour and the need to exert control over situations.

So what does this all mean for sleep? All of these developmental milestones can result in a serious case of separation anxiety, which can make your child act more clingy or demanding. (Specifically, demanding that you never leave their side especially not overnight). These behaviours are even more pronounced at bedtime, especially if your little one is overtired after a full day of play.

But all is not lost. Here are my top tips to navigating sleep during this transition

  • Define the boundaries. Kids this age push boundaries not because they don’t like them, but because they want to ensure that they exist. If your toddler is feeling more fearful or anxious, help him to feel more secure by clearly defining boundaries. I recommend that every family have a set of sleep rules that they consistently follow, such as “We all sleep in our own beds all night long” or “Lights out at 7pm”.
  • Streamline the bedtime routine. If the process of getting your child into bed has spun out of control, it’s time to course correct. Talk to your partner to decide what you’d like bedtime to looks like:  for example, bath time, change into PJs, brush teeth, read 3 books, sing a “goodnight” song… and that’s it. Explain the change to your child and reiterate the new routine every night until it becomes a (mostly) unquestioned habit.
  • Give your child a few free passes. If he makes never-ending demands for you to come back into his bedroom, create a few “passes” that you give him at bedtime. Each time you come back in, whether it to be for extra kisses or more water, he gives you one of the passes. Once he’s run out, you’re not coming back in. Period.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Since tantrums and shenanigans increase around this age, your child may hear a lot of “No!” and “Stop!” throughout the day. Once you’ve defined your sleep rules, remember to praise your child when she follows them. If there’s a certain behavior you’re trying to change--e.g., staying in her own bed all night--consider creating a sticker reward chart for every that they respect the rules. Enforce boundaries but also celebrate success.
  • Honor your promises. If you say you’ll come check on your child in five minutes, be sure to follow through on it. Conversely, if you say that you won’t, then don’t.

All of this is easier said than done. Parenting at bedtime can be tough:  your child is half-crazed with exhaustion and so are you. But, I promise, if you can define your boundaries and consistently enforce them for a few weeks, you’ll be back watching Love Island after your kids are safely tucked into bed.

Hadley Seward is a certified sleep consultant and founder of Bonne Nuit Baby. Based in New York City, she gives exhausted parents in Europe and North America the tools to get their child’s back on track, once and for all.

Get sleep tips and follow her adventures at @_bonnenuitbaby

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