How to handle bedtime resistance in toddlers and preschoolers

Has bedtime become a dreaded time in your house?  Is your toddler or preschooler having tantrums when it’s bedtime?  Going to bed super late?  Taking hours to fall asleep?  Do you want to make bedtime earlier and more enjoyable for everyone involved? If you answered yes to these questions, this strategy may be for you!

Research has shown that combining positive bedtime routines with a faded bedtime may be the answer for SOME children!  So what is a faded bedtime? Bedtime fading is a sleep training approach that is intended to adjust your child’s internal clock.  It works by increasing your child’s sleep drive to help them fall asleep faster and thus create new sleep patterns.  It can work very well when paired with bedtime routines that create more positive associations with bedtime.

When is this an appropriate tool?

This tool is most appropriate when bedtime resistance is your main concern.  Examples include:

-When bedtime is very late and it is taking a very long time to fall asleep

-When bedtime becomes a lengthy and negative process that is dreaded by everyone


When is this the wrong choice for my situation?

This is not the best tool to choose if the concern is something other than bedtime resistance/tantrums.  Examples include:

-If your child is constantly getting out of bed

-If you are experiencing excessive night wakings rather than issues with sleep onset


How do I do it?


When using bedtime fading, it is important to wake your child up within 15-30 minutes of the same time each morning. They will be tired at first, but this is the point.  This approach helps establish a healthy circadian rhythm over time. For example, if you are looking for a bedtime around 8 pm, my suggestion would be to wake up no later than 7:30 am.  Additionally, make sure your child has 2-3 consecutive days of falling asleep within 5-20 minutes of bedtime before moving it up.  Finally, don’t allow naps unless your child is still napping on a regular basis.  If your child is still napping, ensure the nap happens early enough in the day so that it does not interfere with bedtime.  If your child is no longer napping, do not reintroduce naps. Depending on your specific situation, you may need to consider capping their nap.


When making any change, it is important to practice healthy sleep hygiene and ensure you have created a calm and comfortable environment.  Here are some tips:

-Get sunlight first thing in the morning.  Flood the room with natural light when you wake your child up.

-Stop screen time and overhead lights at least 1 hour before bedtime.

-Address any nighttime fears separately.


About the author
Kari is the owner and founder of The Pediatric Sleep Teacher.  She is a certified sleep coach, licensed early childhood learning behavior specialist, and mother.  
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