Here is what exactly to do when your baby or toddler simply doesn't want to go to sleep
I grab the sleeping bag, and my 18 month old one watches me closely. We exchange some eye contact. He knows what is about to come. And so do I.
And then he runs to the living room as if he was running for his life.
It's somehow funny and cute seeing him run away. But only for a second because I know he will cry and fight once I try to put on the sleeping bag. I will try to read his bedtime story. Sometimes he would stop crying, and sometimes he would cry through the whole story while I tried to distract him by reading a children's book very, VERY enthusiastically. Sounds and all. But he is sending me a clear signal:
I DON'T WANT TO GO TO BED. WHAT DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND, WOMAN.
Eventually, he falls asleep, but the whole process is just really exhausting. Why can't we just cuddle and share smooches? Why can't we read our bedtime story peacefully? Why can't you just go to your room, jump into the crib, wave, and sleep? Just kidding.
No, but now honestly, it can be really frustrating if your baby or toddler starts to protest every time they realize it's time for bed. Now I will be very clear, I think every parent experiences bedtime battles at some point. It's a common struggle parents will encounter every now and then. These struggles will often come in waves.
Yet, it shouldn't be a daily fight for a longer period of time. Luckily there are things to ease even completely avoid this difficult situation.
So before we talk about the different things you can do to stop the fights, let's first dig into the causes of bedtime battles.
Causes For Children Fighting Sleep
I will talk about this first because I think that many parents will come here because their young infant is fighting sleep. And thereby, I mean babies until the age of 12 months. In those first few months, some babies may cry inconsolably before they go to bed. This is really tough for parents.
This can be related to your little one's temperament. Some babies are more sensitive than others. They get overstimulated much easier and will then give the feeling of fighting sleep. In those babies, the act of separation that sleep brings is also much more intense and severe.
Sometimes babies will also use crying as a way of winding off. My girl was like that. She would get out a good cry before every nap and then wake up happily with a big smile as if nothing had happened.
2. Overtired Baby
An overtired baby is a very common cause for fighting bedtime. When a baby becomes overtired, they often switch to a hyperactive state. It seems as if they are not tired at all, so we might delay bedtime. However, the contrary is the case.
When you try to get your baby to bed, they might then reach a point where they are completely overwhelmed, and their stress levels are so high they cannot regulate anymore. It's very hard to soothe overtired babies who often give parents the impression that their little one is fighting sleep.
3. Undertired baby
Undertiredness is also a thing in babies and toddlers, especially with growing age. Their sleep needs change, and the amount of daytime sleep they need decreases as they grow. Even as much as 20 minutes of 'too much' sleep during the day can delay bedtime by up to 1 hour. Trying to stick to the same bedtime every time, we often don't realize that our children are not tired enough.
How tired your child is in the evening also depends on their activities throughout the day and how much their sensory cup was filled. It is not about wearing them off as much as possible. But when you stay at home all day, your child simply does not have the chance to power out. And that will show at bedtime.
The fear of missing out is real in children. Especially on time with their parents. And when bedtime approaches and they know that not all family members are going to bed as well, it can be even more difficult for them.
During some phases, your child will experience more intense separation anxiety. These are normal parts of their development. It is a natural need of children to be with their caregivers. They will even prefer you over sleep which can lead to resisting sleep.
5. They Are About To Drop a Nap
Being close to dropping a nap is another common cause for fighting sleep. Even up to two months before a baby actually drops the nap, they may already start to fight it.
If you are interested in learning more about the signs that your baby is ready to drop a nap, you can read the article below:
6. They Are Going Through a Sleep Regression
Baby sleep patterns often change due to sleep regressions. Your child will go through 4 major sleep regressions that affect not only bedtime but also nap time and nighttime sleep. At 4 months, your baby will go through the probably most noticeable regression when their sleep cycle changes.
What To Do If Your Baby or Toddler Fights Sleep
Implementing healthy sleep habits will significantly help with a baby that fights sleep.
1. Give Undivided Attention
This is one of the number one solutions for bedtime battles, especially in older babies and toddlers. Children desire our attention like nothing else. They have an extreme need to bond with their caregivers, and it's their fuel. So make sure that the evenings are reserved for the family. Sometimes we are so caught up in making dinner, cleaning up, getting the kids ready for bed that there is no one-on-one time left with the children. It even doesn't have to be a big activity. Let them help prepare the meal or clean up the table. Be present during the bedtime routine. Engage in a lot of talk and cuddles. It will make bedtime much easier and something the family can actually enjoy.
2. Watch For Tired Signs
Watch for sleep cues to prevent under- and overtiredness. These two will not only make bedtime much more difficult they can also contribute to increased sleep disturbances at night. Keeping an eye on age-appropriate awake time will help you recognize a tired baby. Once your baby is showing the first signs of tiredness, it's time to get them ready for bed.
On the other hand, you also have to accept that you cannot force sleep on a child who is not tired enough. Even though you really really want them to go to bed. Include daily outings so your little one can fill their sensory cup.
3. Keep A Calm And Relaxing Atmosphere
A calm and dark environment is very helpful to get your baby into the mood for sleep, especially when you have a sensitive baby. Turn off the tv and avoid toys that make sounds. Instead, you can engage in quiet and relaxing play like playing with putty, drawing or reading a book. Make sure to avoid anything that can lead to overstimulating your little one.
4. Take Naps On The Go
When babies are about to drop a nap, it makes sense to simply have them on the go in a stroller or a baby carrier. They will not have the impression of going to sleep, but when they are tired enough, they will eventually doze off. A baby carrier is also very helpful for sensitive babies as they enjoy the closeness to their parent, which helps them sleep better.
The same goes for the afternoon nap. This nap is usually hard to achieve, so I always recommend having it on the go.
5. Invest Time In a Thorough Sleep Routine
A nap and bedtime routine is a great way to get your baby into the mood for sleep. Make sure to invest enough time into it. A newborn baby or young infant only needs a short routine. 15 minutes are often more than enough. An older baby or a toddler often needs a longer routine to prepare for sleep.
6. Keep A Daytime Routine
A daily routine can also make naps and bedtime much easier. Your little one is used to a regular structure, so they instinctively knows when it is time to sleep. You don't have to follow a rigid sleep schedule, but a repetitive structure of the day will already help with easier bedtime.
7. Don't Stress
The last piece of advice I want to give you is one that I wish I had given myself with my first daughter:
I know it is easier said than done. But the more we stress about certain things, the more they become anchored in the back of our minds and the more difficult it becomes to overcome them. Also, children have highly sensitive receptors to stress. Whenever their parent is stressed, they will pick it up and often imitate their stress. You can also calm a baby when your calm yourself. It takes a lot of practice, but it is highly effective.
Back then, with my first child, I was obsessed with her sleeping behavior and all our 'sleep problems'. When it was 8 PM, I would try to get my baby to bed because that was her bedtime. I was always watching the clock. But it didn't help and actually made everything worse. Whenever we were past her bedtime, I thought horrendous things would happen at night, which obviously didn't.
With my second child, I was so much more relaxed when it came to bedtime and sleep overall. Honestly, we would bring him to bed sometimes at 9 PM, and it was just right. I wouldn't stress about it anymore. I would still use my flexible sleep schedule because I am kind of a fan, but I would also go a lot with my gut.