Externalize the Rules Around Bedtime
Bedtime tantrums are so common and most frequently stem from toddlers seeking control and boundaries. In the thick of a tantrum, the best thing to do is to take a deep breath, be calm, and get down on your child’s level. Remember that escalating won’t shorten the tantrum, and the fastest route to calm is to model it.
Once your child has collected him or herself enough to answer questions, start giving choices, for anything and everything! You want to help them feel empowered. “Do you want to brush your teeth or use the potty next?” “Left leg in your pajamas or right leg first?” “Should we read on the chair or your bed?” “Do you want to flip the light off, or should Mommy?” “Do you want to give Daddy a hug or a kiss goodnight?”
A favorite “hack” is to externalize the rules around bedtime. Rather than Mommy saying that it’s time to go to sleep, try things like “Mommy stays until the end of your lullaby, and then it’s time for sleep!” This makes it the lullaby’s fault for ending rather than Mommy’s. Even better, use an OK to Wake clock, and when the clock says it is time to be quiet for bed, it isn’t open for negotiation.
Last, keep your language positive and you’ll find children less likely to argue. Things like, “I’ll stay for three minutes,” instead of, “I’m leaving in three minutes,” can change the tone of the routine entirely. Or, “It’s time for sleeping, I can’t wait to see you in the morning!” sounds nicer than “You need to lay down and go to bed now.” Similarly, “We get to read one more story before we sleep,” rather than, “I’m only going to read one last book for you.”
Some very small changes in tone and attitude can reverse and prevent tantrums!
Set a Realistic Expectation
The best defense against bedtime tantrums happens way before bedtime! I recommend that parents set realistic expectations with their little ones, in an age-appropriate way, during the day. If our little ones know what to expect and we communicate it during the day, when they are receptive to learning and can express their feelings, it makes for a smoother bedtime.
It could sound like this with a 2.5-year-old: “Tonight we are going to take our bath, brush our teeth, go potty and then read two books. After that Mommy is going to give you two kisses, two hugs, and two tuck-ins, and then we will say good night and I will check on you while you are going to sleep.”
Doing this lessens the likelihood that a tantrum will happen because your toddler knows what to expect and it is easier to hold boundaries when they have been communicated in advance. Also, ensure that bedtime isn’t too late. An overtired child is more likely to tantrum at bedtime. I recommend bedtime for most toddlers is between 6:30 and 7:30 pm.
Luben Redwood is a parent and educator living with his family in the Midwest. Know more about him at DontPlayWithThat.com.
Be Strict with the Routine
For us, the greatest antidote to the pre-bedtime tantrums is routine, coupled with intense presentness and humor.
Our routine includes teeth brushing, expressing thanks, and a made-up, choose-your-own-adventure style story. Lately, there’s been lots of tickles as well.
The element of routine, I think, emphasizes the rigidity of bedtime. It’s going to happen no matter how tempting Peppa Pig is. But, with the parent being completely present, they almost convey an “I am going through this too” feeling and the humor makes it fun.
Fun inside boundaries. It’s a difficult balance, but it’s worth it.
Two Steps to Dissipating Tantrums
1. Hug. The most effective and simplest method that I do is hugging my toddler until he calms down. It usually takes three to five minutes until he loosens up, then I’ll tell him I love him. Luckily for me, those are enough to ease his distress.
2. Reading books, singing nursery rhymes, and tickle games. These diversions come after the hugging. We will read his favorite books, sing nursery rhymes or do tickle games for more or less an hour until he gets tired and sleepy. As much as possible, we avoid resorting to Cocomelon or using gadgets to strengthen our mother-son bonding.
Julie Ann Ensomo
Julie Ann Ensomo shares the dirt on motherhood and what she wished she knew back when she was a new mom, on her website Adaptable Mama.
Four Tantrum Management Tips
1. Find out why they’re having a tantrum. The first thing that I do is try to figure out why my kid was having a tantrum. Maybe she wanted more kisses from me and I didn’t notice. Maybe she wanted to pet our cats and I didn’t hear her request. Maybe she was still hungry. The reasons could range from me saying, “Awww,” to, “WTF?” but I always try to figure it out so I can provide a solution. And whatever fix or answer I can provide usually always works.
2. Tell a story. If my solution doesn’t work, I always go for my second tactic: telling stories. A dramatic one, complete with facial expressions, big actions, appropriate sounds, and noises – you name it, I did it. I mostly did it to distract her. And this would usually work when she was younger. I would be telling a story while changing her clothes, turning off the lights, and leading her to bed.
I would also use the story as a bribe. I would inform her I’d tell her a story if and only if she lies down and promises to sleep.
3. Let them cry it out. If none of my go-to fixes work, I just let her have a go at expressing her feelings. I just let her cry or have her tantrum while I’m beside her, soothing her. I learned that whenever I just let her be, she would usually finish in a few minutes, and then we can settle her back again to sleep. It was so much easier to just let her be upset and cry it out, then try to stop it and force her to sleep.
4. Tell sleep-related stories. When my kid was three years old, she suddenly became much more fluent and articulate. She would start to argue and bargain with me about playing more and sleeping late. And distracting her with make-believe stories didn’t work anymore.
But what did work is telling her truer ones. So I would tell her why we need to sleep, what happens when we don’t sleep, and all kinds of variations about the importance of sleep. I also tell her stories about animals and how they sleep at night, where the sun goes at night and I practically tell her any story related to sleep and nighttime.
It fascinates her so much that she would sometimes stare quietly at the ceiling, and I can just imagine her brain whirring and absorbing all the info she just got.
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