Bedtime Tantrums: 22 Tips for Taming Tired Toddlers

Newborn throwing tantrums in bed.

  • Bedtime tantrums are normal and are part of your child’s development.
  • Tantrums occur at bedtime for several reasons, ranging from hunger to separation anxiety.
  • A positive parenting mindset proves helpful in combating the dreaded bedtime tantrums.
  • Your reaction to your toddler’s behaviors can determine whether the tantrum passes or persists.
  • Tantrums must be monitored closely in case your child hurts himself or others.

As the sun sets, do stress and power struggles arise in your household? Are you shuddering the moment bedtime comes around?

Bedtime tantrums are stressful, especially at the end of a long day. Perhaps you’ve even ended up throwing tantrums of your own.

Your toddler is still navigating big and new feelings. Beyond the intensity of the emotions themselves, learning self-control and what to do with those emotions is crucial— and often the tricky part.

It may be difficult to believe, but bedtime tantrums occur for specific reasons. And please believe that they, too, shall pass.

Is it Normal for Toddlers to Have Bedtime Tantrums?

If your child is throwing bedtime tantrums, rest assured that this behavior is perfectly normal. On average, children between 18 months and 5 years old throw tantrums once daily. Tantrums occur most often between the ages of 2 and 3.

Toddler tantrums are just a part of the long list of developmental milestones. (It’s just not as cute as, maybe, your child’s first steps.)

Further adding to the mix, your toddler is in an interesting predicament: He’s struggling with the desire for your attention and the desire to obtain independence.

Why Do Toddlers Throw Tantrums at Bedtime?

You might be asking yourself, “Why, oh, why does my toddler have to throw tantrums at bedtime?” Toddler tantrums occur at bedtime for many reasons:

  • Falling asleep alone may frighten him.
  • He has separation anxiety.
  • There’s a lack of a transition leading to bedtime.
  • He’s hungry.
  • He has a food allergy.
  • He’s sick.
  • He’s an overtired baby.
  • He requires more sleep.
  • He’s an overstimulated baby and is having difficulty falling asleep.
Mother comforting her child in bed.

Dealing with Toddler Bedtime Tantrums

In emotionally-charged situations, the thought of remaining calm and positive may seem laughable to many parents.

Still, maintaining calmness and positivity will make all the difference for you and your family (and maybe everything else in life). 

When you encounter tantrums at bedtime, there are several things you can do:

1. Stay calm

As you feel your anger rising, try to remind yourself that yelling and screaming back at your child will only worsen the situation. Unhelpful reactions also include threats, blame, and criticism.

Ask your partner to step in if you feel yourself approaching your threshold. Leave the room to prevent an outburst and cool down. 

2. Embrace the fact that you’re still in control.

You’re in control of your reactions to your child. You’re in control of taking deep breaths instead of yelling.

3. Ignore negative behavior

Your child craves your attention, and sometimes children throw tantrums to receive attention from their parents.

Ignoring your child’s tantrums doesn’t mean that you neglect him. Ignoring is an active process. You’re still ensuring safety for him and others.

You avoid rewarding your child for getting your attention through unacceptable actions by ignoring unwanted behavior. Therefore, show him positive attention by recognizing good behavior every chance you get!

4. Praise your child when he begins to calm down–even if it’s just a little bit

He may even start talking about his feelings. If he does, recognize what a great job he’s done.

Then, watch your little guy bask in your positive attention.

5. Remain calm

Speak slowly in a low voice. When you remain calm, you model the skill of self-control for your toddler.

6. Ask yourself if your child feels like he’s being heard

The connection with you might be all that he needs.

Toddler throws tantrums in bed.

Preventing Toddler Bedtime Tantrums

On calmer days, take the opportunity to take preventative measures. You and your child will know exactly what to do to have a tear-free night when you have a plan in place.

7. Prioritize sleep

It takes discipline and willpower to turn off the TV or step away from friends to put your child to bed. Your beloved shows can wait, and your friends will understand. Your child’s sleep comes first.

Sleep deprivation is often the culprit to challenging behaviors. When children get a good night’s sleep and are well-rested, they’re less likely to throw bedtime tantrums.

8. Ensure your child is receiving a balanced diet

Your child’s diet has a significant impact on his behaviors and mood.

You may want to consider cutting out sugary desserts at dinnertime to avoid a sugar crash that can trigger a tantrum.

9. Make a connection

Give your child plenty of attention and love, especially if you’re apart from each other for most of the day. Though your toddler indeed seeks independence, he still wants your attention. He’ll undoubtedly let you know when he’s missed it–come nightfall. 

10. Decide on sleep and wake time by referring to average sleep needs

Young children thrive on predictability and structure. Having your child sleep and wake up at an expected time is a gift to you and your child.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children between 1 and 2 years old require 11 to 14 hours of sleep, including nap time. Between 3 and 5 years old, children need 10 to 13 hours of sleep.

The relatively large range of recommended sleeping hours allows you to create a schedule that makes sense for your child and the whole family. 

11. Consider an earlier bedtime

An earlier bedtime can ensure that your child gets sound sleep. Especially when you’re traveling, though, a late bedtime is inevitable. Returning to your child’s regular schedule as soon as possible will make all the difference in his behavior.

12. Create a bedtime routine and remain consistent

Keeping the bedtime routine simple will make it easier to stay consistent. It can be as simple as changing into pajamas, brushing teeth, playing a quiet game, reading a bedtime story, and saying good night.

Try out the routine for a few nights and adjust accordingly. The key is to keep it as simple as possible.

13. Set a sleepy mood

Mimic nightfall in your home to get that surge of melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone) going in your toddler.

Dim the lights throughout your home, including your child’s room. Put on soothing music at bath time if you like.

Consider using a red night light if your child prefers to have some light in his room while he sleeps. The red cast encourages melatonin production to help your child fall asleep.

14. Let your child take some control in his bedtime routine

He’s preparing for his bedtime, after all. Why not let him have a say or two in his routine?

While your toddler will still need your guidance, he’ll enjoy picking out his pajamas or choosing which books to read. It will be beneficial if your child is a strong-willed toddler who likes to call the shots. His involvement will incentivize him to turn his “jobs” into a consistent routine.

15. Name that emotion

You can teach your child how to label his feelings with a chart or flashcards with photos or illustrations of emotions. Many picture books teach about emotions and social situations.

You can also engage in some home art therapy. Encourage your child to draw a picture about different emotions, then talk about it afterward.

A significant factor that may play into your toddler’s tantrums is the lack of ability to express himself. For instance, children with autism tend to throw tantrums because they have difficulty expressing themselves. Describe his behaviors in a non-judgmental and calm tone by saying, “you’re angry” or “you’re frustrated.”

By learning emotional intelligence skills, your child will feel less frustrated and confused about his feelings.

16. Use humor to teach emotions

Model different emotions through role-playing or games. It’s empowering that you can inject humor and fun into the realm of tantrums!

17. Provide a safe space

Allow your child to get accustomed to sharing his emotions by listening closely. Stay positive and validate his feelings. Permit him to sit with his feelings without shame or guilt.

18. Plan for plenty of transition time

The announcement for bedtime is a very unwelcome notion if your child is in the middle of having fun. It’s best to avoid springing “lights out” on him without warning. That’s a guarantee to get your toddler screaming and crying.

Remind him that bedtime is approaching, and remind him again after a few minutes. More transition strategies include:

  • Setting a timer that your child can see.
  • Displaying a chart with his bedtime schedule. Your child will be able to see what’s coming up next.
  • Sing a transition song. Most children are motivated by music. A song can teach your child how to prepare for the next activity in his routine.
  • Take your time. Rushing through transitions can bring stress and pressure on your child. Your sense of urgency might trigger a tantrum so allow plenty of time.

19. Make it a habit to go over the ground rules

Instill family values by going over acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. For instance, you can state the following rules:

  • “In this family, we use an inside voice.”
  • “In our family, we don’t hit or call names.”
  • “Our family members don’t throw or break things on purpose.”

Your toddler may need plenty of reminders. He’ll soon learn which is acceptable and unacceptable behavior no matter how he’s feeling.

20. Look for signs of tiredness

Is your toddler rubbing his eyes? Is he looking off into the distance with glassy eyes? These are cues for you to get him to bed. Some other signs of tiredness may include:

  • Clinginess
  • Grumpiness
  • Fussiness
  • Boredom
  • Clumsiness

When past a certain point of tiredness, your toddler is very likely to throw a tantrum.

21. Limit screen time

Help your child wind down by turning off the screens at least one hour before bed. The blue light that emits from screens causes delayed sleep and night waking.

You can lead through example by reducing your own screen time. Encourage your child to play independently or engage in a relaxing activity together. 

Be sure to give your child a notice that screen time is coming to a close. You can say, “Five more minutes until we say ‘good night’ to the screen.”

22. Teach the awareness of breath

Calming strategies can be powerful tools when your toddler feels frustrated or angry. There are some fun and easy ways to teach your child breath control:

  • As a quiet game for your family to play at night, blow bubbles together using deep breaths. Especially when blowing large bubbles, your child can learn how to take deep, steady breaths.
  • You can also practice taking deep breaths together by holding him close and breathing deeply together. He’ll be able to feel your chest and belly slowly rise and fall.
  • Help him mimic your deep breaths and breathe together. Doing this exercise together will leave him feeling relaxed and sleeping soundly in no time.
  • Employ the help of your child’s favorite stuffed animal. Have your child lie down face-up and place the doll on his tummy.
  • Tell him to take slow, deep breaths to make his belly fall and rise. When his breaths are steady, the doll will rise up and down while remaining on his stomach.

When to Seek Help for Bedtime Tantrums

A sleep counselor, or sleep coach, can help by assessing your parenting style and current bedtime routine. She then applies evidence-based discipline methods to work with you and your child.

The sleep counselor provides techniques to help your child reach bedtime goals, such as avoiding disrupting sleep activities and falling asleep independently.

There are instances when tantrums can lead to toddler aggression or destructive behavior. It could have been a single occurrence, but pay close attention.

Here are signs that it may be time to seek advice from your child’s healthcare provider:

  • The tantrums persist longer than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Your child throws objects or damages property.
  • You are unable to keep calm during tantrums.
  • Your child holds his breath.
  • Your child hurts himself or others.
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