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Why Won't My Toddler Go to Bed?

How To Cope With A Toddler Who Resists Sleep

Chances are, you spent the first few months of your child's life in a zombie-like state due to lack of sleep. The problem most likely eased over time as your baby grew out of his middle-of-the-night feedings and adjusted to his bedtime routines. But now that your child is a toddler -- perhaps even in his own "big-kid bed" -- you occasionally feel like it would be easier to win the lottery than get him to sleep.

Here are a few reasons why he might still resist sleep, and how to cope with each:

  • He just wants to hang out with Mom and Dad.
    "Parents should take it as a compliment when their toddler resists going to bed," says pediatrician Ari Brown, M.D., author of "Baby 411" and "Toddler 411." "He wants to be with you. Why would he want to lay in his crib or bed all alone when he can be where the action is?"

    The solution: For starters, make your evenings as boring as possible. Try not to turn on the TV, which can stimulate kids, and keep the lights low. Equally important: Once you settle on a set bedtime, don't bend the rules. Kids need to know that if you say bedtime is at 7:30 p.m., it will be 7:30 p.m. If you let your toddler stay up until 8 p.m. one night, he's going to assume you'll cave again and let him stay up later the next night.


  • He has poor sleep habits.
    If your toddler regularly skips his nap, he's going to be overtired by the end of the day, making it (paradoxically) harder to get him into bed. Similarly, a toddler who takes a late-day nap or whose bedtime varies every day may just not be tired if you try to put him down on the early side.

    The solution: Again, choose a bedtime and stick to it -- day in and day out. And as much as possible, stick to a predictable nap schedule. Make sure he snoozes at the same time and in the same place, and don't let him sleep past 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. Finally, institute a nighttime routine that includes brushing teeth, reading a book, then laying down in the crib. He'll anticipate that going to sleep is the final step in the routine, which may help him calm down more quickly.


  • He's going through a bout of separation anxiety.
    Around 9 months and again at 15 months, separation anxiety kicks in and your little one will cling to you more than ever.

    The solution: "While it may be hard -- and will involve some tears -- you need to stick to your guns," says Dr. Brown. "Put your child in his crib, say 'I love you and I'll see you in the morning,' then walk out of the room." (Luckily, separation anxiety often passes quickly.) In addition, try offering a security object like a favorite teddy bear or blanket if your child is more than a year old.


  • He's afraid of the dark.
    Children between 18 and 24 months often develop a fear of monsters or other scary things that they are convinced are lurking under their crib or in their closets.

    The solution: Amazingly, sometimes just putting a nightlight in the room can solve the problem. Or try a bottle of "monster spray" -- a plain spray bottle with water that you spritz in their room at bedtime to keep monsters away. Again, a comfort object can help your child feel bolder and better prepared to go to sleep on his own.
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