I cringe every time I catch myself doing this.
We are starting our bedtime routine and the bedtime tantrum begins. As soon as my son knows bedtime is starting, he weighs in with “No sleep, no rest, no bath.” This is his response to everything. This chant—no sleep, no rest, no bath—it’s basically his life motto.
When you put your kids to bed, they act like they’ve never slept before in their life.
Kids act like sleep is poison.
Related: How to Respond When Your Child is Afraid to Sleep Alone
I get so frustrated with all this “no sleep, no rest, no bath” chanting. The anger boils up inside me until my brain is filled to the brim with irritation.
That’s when the words exit my mouth, “If you don’t want to take a bath, then you’re going to bed right now. Do you want to go to bed right now?!”
I find myself doing this in other situations why my son doesn’t listen or obey:
“If you don’t listen to mom, then you’re going to bed right now.”
“If you don’t stop crying, then you have to take a nap. That’s it! Your taking a nap.”
This usually leads us into a power struggle. Why is it that all a parent wants to do is sleep and kids don’t?
The sleep approach you’re missing.
Sleep is a gift. Sleep is a treasure. As adults, you and I know this. All we want to do is finally get some sleep. To take a nap. To sleep all night and wake up to breakfast in bed (or…at least coffee!).
But here’s the problem: I was treating sleep as a consequence to bad behavior.
Sleep is not a consequence. Sleep is a gift, and I was practically begging my child to fight me at bedtime by treating it as a consequence.
How to fix your approach to sleep with kids.
It’s time to re-frame the idea of sleep and help kids see it in a positive light. Sleep heals our body. Sleep gives us energy. Sleep helps our brains learn new skills and process the day’s events.
It’s the building block of child growth and development.
One mom recently shared that before she puts her baby to sleep, she says, “You are going to feel so much better after you rest.”
photo credit: wideeyedwonders
Another friend of mine says, “Let’s go have our comfy time together.” And they put their jammies on and snuggle together in bed.
We decided to give this a whirl and she how it went with our child at home. Here’s the changes we made:
Step 1. Remove sleep as a consequence.
If our son wouldn’t pick up the toys before bed, the consequence was not sleep. There was no more “You’re going to bed right now.” Instead, if he wouldn’t pick up the toys, he lost the toys the next day. Losing his train set for a day was the consequence, not sleep. Then we continued on with our “comfy time.”
If he refused to brush his teeth, the consequence was no treats or candy.
If he refused the bath, here’s how we fixed that problem.
But to be honest, most of our bedtime routine battles faded away after following step two!
Step 2. Approach sleep positively.
We started using some printable routine cards to help him feel more control over the bedtime routine and then we re-framed the idea of sleep by saying things like…
“It’s your special time with mommy (or daddy).”
“It’s your snuggle time. We get our bodies clean, comfy and cozy.”
“Snuggle time feels so good!”
Step 3. Talk to your child about how sleep helps.
We started saying things like…
“Did you know the more you sleep, the faster you will be able to run and play?”
“Did you know that when you sleep, your brain moves all the things you learned today into the right spot?”
“Did you know that you need more sleep than mommy (or daddy) because your brain and body is growing super fast?”
“Did you know that sleep helps heal all your boo-boos faster than if you didn’t sleep?”
Saying and talking about these ideas throughout the day can help your child transform the way he or she thinks about sleep.
- 2 Year Old Sleep Regression Explained. Why It Happens and Solutions.
- 2 Year-Old Sleep Schedule That Helps Everyone Get More Sleep
Step 4. Encourage activities that talk about sleep.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelo
This is a quote I think about when teaching kids about sleep through play or activities. Here are a few sleep activities to play…
- Have your child draw a picture of everything that happens in their brain when they are sleeping.
- Using dolls have your kids help their doll get ready for “snuggle time.”
- Have a pajama race and whomever gets their pajamas on the fastest wins the game.
- Allow your child to follow a routine using a set printable routine cards.
All of these activities build connection with your child and helps them have a positive association of sleep. When kids laugh and play, they enjoy learning and are more likely to remember new information.
Our new bedtime.
Tonight my son put his pajamas on, climbed on the couch with his red gummy night light, and patted the cushion three times to signal it was time for me to sit for our “comfy time.” I headed over and snuggled up next to him. Together we read two stories together–one about taking a mouse to school and another about pandas.
After reading our stories, he hopped off the couch, gave me a kiss and ran off to his room for bed. I followed, and when I got there, he was under the covers waiting for me.
I leaned in to give him one more kiss on the cheek before turning out the lights, and that’s when he whispered something that made me know our new comfy bedtime was the right choice: “My sleep, mama. Night, mama.”
“Yes. It is your sleep, son. It’s a gift. And I’m so glad you finally claimed it.”
Print this free toddler listening checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with toddler listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!
Here is a sneak preview…
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join 37,000+ parents who receive my weekly parenting tips and ideas!
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!
Want more on parenting?
- How Routines, Schedules and Early Bedtimes Strengthened My Marriage
- 4 Ridiculously Easy Wasy to End a Power Struggle or Tantrum
- 7 Genius Parenting Hacks for an Easier Bedtime With Kids
- How to Get Your Child to Follow a Bedtime Routine Without Reminders
I've created a free email series just for you! If you are struggling with finding a routine, rhythm or schedule, this email series will help you find one that will work for YOUR family. Yes, really. I've seen my sample routines work time and time again for parents. I know it can work for you too.
This free email series will help you:
- Free sample routines for your child
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- All-time favorite parenting hacks for getting more cooperation at bedtime
- Step-by-step guide for using a printable daily schedule with kids
This is like Gospel. Thank you so, so much for the very needed shift in perspective. I literally Googled “help my toddler with bedtime tantrums” and came across this pure gold. I returned to her room with a stuffed animal and renamed it her “Special Snuggle Sleepy Buddy.” Said some more things you have listed about about being faster, stronger, etc. after sleep and poof, voila— smiling two year old wishes me Night Night. I will never ever threaten her with sleep again. Thanks a million, doc!
I feel like I do everything right: no screen time in the evenings, dim lights, talk positive about sleep, a bedtime ritual, reading books, snuggles, cuddles, then just before he needs to go in his bed: “I don’t want to sleep”. Our son is now 4 and he’s always had periods where he wakes up 100x of times for reassuring and doesn’t want to sleep. It is so tiring and so upsetting not to know the cause and what I could do. He doesn’t have fears of monsters or anything. Don’t know what I can do anymore… 🙁
Does anyone have the experience of their toddler seemingly drifting to sleep… and then BAM! Energy explosion? I am a solo mom of a 2 year old and we’ve always co-slept. As long as I’ve let him sleep in my bed he’s been an amazing sleeper. I tried moving him into his own bedroom several times and it was brutal. Even leaving the room for a minute at a time would escalate until it just felt like torture/trauma. Over the past two months though, he will be drifting to sleep after routine but as soon as the bottle is out he is revved up and ready to go. He seems desperate to stay awake. He literally spins like a top and talks to himself and jumps on the dog and runs stark raving mad through the house…I haven’t had him asleep before 10:30 in months. Any advice for the not upset but extremely wild thing at night?
So, how do I know what the cause of my child’s wake ups are? I am thinking separation anxiety or fear of the dark. But if I add any more light to her room it will be daytime! She understands how to use the word fear, or at least I thought she did (she is 2.5) and she doesn’t use this word when she wakes during the night. Originally she would fall asleep with some blanket adjustments but now in week 3 or 4 of wake ups she is panicking when we leave the room in the middle of night and running out of excuses for us to stay. What would you say is the reason for the wake ups? fear? separation anxiety? or is some of this behaviorial? as I think she has figured out that we don’t want her to be loud in the middle of the night for fear that she will wake up the 1 year old. And so in getting loud she does manage to pull us back into the room over and over. Not sure what to do! She we sleep with her? Although I don’t want to do a family bed….I can understand why folks advocate for us (it’s probably better for the child and their anxiety over the time, solidifies a relationship with parent etc), I am just not good at sleeping with others And I become a bad parent during the day when I don’t get sleep and I have the second that still wakes during the night. Please help if you can!