Encouraging Positive Sleep Behavior and Bedtime Routines in Infants & Toddlers

By Todd Wolynn, MD, MMM, IBCLC
Kid’s Plus Pediatrics

“My toddler has his own bed, but he won’t sleep in it. He will scream and cry until I bring him into my bed.”

You present a toddler with a piece of chocolate and a piece of broccoli. You look at the toddler with love and kindness and say, “Now eat your broccoli.” When the child eats the chocolate instead, would you be surprised?

Think of your toddler’s bed as the broccoli. It’s good for her, and it helps her to grow. It helps her develop independence and confidence in her sleep process, and it pays lifelong dividends for her sleep quality.

Think of your bed as the candy. It’s fun, and it’s a special treat. He gets to interact with his a parent (or two), and he might even get his back rubbed.

Which do you think they’ll choose? Which would you choose?

We’re talking toddlers here — masters of their own domain, champions of immediate gratification, forces that do not take “no” for an answer! They’re concrete thinkers: my boring bed vs. my parent’s fun bed. Can you even begin to argue with that reasoning?

You have to, if you want your toddler to be able to self-settle, and to sleep (and nap) both comfortably and successfully in his or her own bed.

So, recognizing that a toddler will be neither rational or understanding of your insistence that he sleep in his own bed, you need to be prepared for toddler tactics. And prepare yourself well, because they’re very effective. They may not be diabolical adversaries, but they’re savvy ones. And they know to go with what works.
You tell your toddler its time for bed and say, “Let’s go to your room for your bedtime story.” And then, the response…

  • Cute: He gets his teddy bear and heads to your room.
  • Evasive: She runs and hides.
  • Ornery: He turns into a cross between a greased pig and a crocodile.
  • Linguistic: Water! Milk! Potty! Ouch!

If it works in the day, it makes sense to try it at night. And it makes even more sense to combine one of those tactics with the big C-bomb:

Crying.

If they’re not getting the cookie or the toy, being told they have to leave the playground, or they just don’t like Mom’s choice of sleeping arrangement, the best protest and most effective protest tactic they have is the strong cry, big tear combo.

The best defense you can have are a clear, solid sleep plan and the resolve to see it through. Consistency and determination are paramount. For one that we’ve developed, and that many of our parents swear by, download this PDF from Kid’s + Pediatrics, Sleep Handout Ages 6 Months-2+Years by Dr. Todd Wolynn.