10 Ways to Avoid Bedtime Tantrums

Bedtime does not have to be a nightmare

Child having trouble falling asleep

Lauren Naefe / Stocksy United

What is bedtime like in your house? For many parents of small children, when the clock rolls around to bedtime, even the best days start to go wrong. And if you have a child who is reluctant at bedtime, it can really affect the whole household.

Preschool-aged children (considered to be in the 3 to 5 years of age group) need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep a day (this can include naps). If your child goes to bed too late, they might not be getting the sleep that they need, leading to a host of other issues, including irritability and sleepiness during the day. And chances are if your child is not sleeping enough, you aren't either, which doesn't help anyone. 

While some preschoolers are cooperative when it is time for bed, there are many more who are not quite so accommodating. And of course, everyone has a bad night once in a while.

But bedtime doesn't have to always be a battle.

With a few parent-tested and approved tips and tricks, you'll all be sleeping soundly (in your own beds) in no time. Check out these bedtime hacks for a good night's sleep for the whole family.

Give Kids a Choice

Young children like to be in control, but obviously, they need limits as well. So appeal to your child's sense of needing to be in charge by offering up some choices at bedtime.

Keep in mind though, when you offer a choice to your child, be sure to offer up options that you will be happy with, no matter what your child chooses. For example, if you ask, how many books at bedtime, don't give the answers as four, five, or six if you aren't willing to read that many.

You don't want to go back on your promise, as that will just cause frustration for everyone. Here are some options to try. See which ones work best for your family.

  • Ask which pair of pajamas they want to wear
  • Offer a choice on which book to read before going to bed.
  • Find out how many books to read—one or two books.
  • Ask which order to complete their bedtime routine in.
  • Allow them to choose their bedtime. Be sure to offer an option you are comfortable with! But you can be silly with this one too. If you are talking about this earlier in the day, make the options 10 a.m., 6 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.
  • Find out which blanket they want to sleep with.
  • Ask which stuffed animal to sleep with such as the duck or the elephant? Choices are really important here too because many preschoolers have enough stuffed animals to start their own zoo!

When getting input from your preschooler, the key word here is choice.

Be sure to give a couple options and don't leave the question open-ended, because then you will get answers such as "I want to read 100 books!" or "I want to go to bed at midnight!"

Use Blackout Curtains

Whenever daylight savings time rolls around, I have the same battle over and over again with my little one. His bedtime is 7:30 p.m. But at 7:30 during the summer months, it isn't even close to being dark outside. So how do I resolve his need to sleep when it looks like nighttime, against my need for him to sleep during actual nighttime?

Blackout curtains do a great job of making the room totally dark, whether it is still too light at bedtime or a little too light very early in the morning. Fair warning though: blackout curtains can make the room quite dark, so be sure to have a night light ready if you think the darkness will be too much for your little one.

Introduce Soothing Scents

Lavender and chamomile are wonderful when it comes to helping people relax. While using essential oils is heralded by many, you must be careful when applying them to the sensitive skin of young children. 

Instead, try products that release the scents into your child's room, including sprays, and diffusers (being very careful to follow all directions). You can also use these scents in the Go Away Spray (see number 5) or diluted in soap or body wash form (see number 8).

Use a Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets have long been heralded as therapy tools by parents of kids with special needs as being super-helpful at bedtime. They offer comfort to children who have sensory disorders, who are affected by autism spectrum disorder, or who in other ways have special needs. But other children may benefit as well.

These blankets apply a slight amount of extra pressure across a person's entire body, relaxing the body and induce a feeling of calm. 

Make Your Own Go Away Spray

For kids who have nightmares, fears of the dark, or fears of the unknowns in the dark, a little comfort can go a long way. "Go Away Sprays" or "monster repellants" encourage kids to spray away their worries, whether it is a monster under the bed or an unknown in their closet.

They can be purchased, or you can make your own. Simply fill a spray bottle or mister with water and add a scent, whether it is an essential oil or a perfume or cologne that your child likes. Have the child decorate the bottle any way they choose. 

Something to consider, however: Rather than use a "Go Away Spray," think about using something more positive, such as Brave Potion or Courage Spray. Go Away Spray may actually confirm for your child that there is something in the room to be scared of, while the alternatives empower little ones to be brave.

Play Soothing Music

Lullabies have been a go-to for parents of babies years, and with good reason. So why not continue the practice as your child gets older? While there is not a ton of medical evidence to support the efficacy of lullabies, some research does indicate that playing soothing music or sounds can improve sleep quality in children.

Regardless, lullabies are certainly soothing and calming, and go a long way in establishing a relaxed tone at bedtime.

Make sure the music is loud enough that your child can hear it, but soft enough so it doesn't interfere with your child falling asleep. A bonus: If you choose the same soundtrack every night, eventually your child will associate that music with bedtime and will likely learn to relax much faster. 

Try Basic Yoga or Stretching

Yoga before bed can be beneficial to everyone! You don't have to get into a whole, full-blown routine, just do a little stretching.

Simple stretches such as child's pose or cobra will help relax kids' muscles and get them into a sleepy state of mind. Play relaxing sounds, such as rain or a waterfall to add to the serene scene. 

Give a Bath or Shower

Many people like to bathe or shower in the morning because it helps wake you up. But it can also help you relax before bed. Giving a child a bath or a shower at night has a few purposes: it cleans your child after a long day of running, jumping, climbing, playing, and whatever else that has caused your child to be messy and/or dirty. But, a bath or a shower also stops the day in its tracks and allows for quiet bath playtime in the tub.

It's a transition from day to night, from clothing to pajamas, which also is an indicator to your child that it's time to settle down. 

Offer a Little Snuggle 

For some children, bedtime is hard because they don't want to separate from mom, dad, or their caregiver. So take some time out to relax together. This should be separate from reading a bedtime story (which also is a great way to help a child wind down!).

Turn off all the lights, put away the screens, get under the blankets and just cuddle. You can talk about your day or just sit in (blissful) silence. The one thing to watch out for here is that you don't get into the habit of letting your child fall asleep while you are still there because that can lead to other issues.

But still, a few minutes of quiet calm in the dark together will be beneficial to you both.

Start a Reward Chart

For kids who need a little extra incentive, consider a reward system of some kind. A positive form of discipline, reward systems are a way of praising good behavior while encouraging it to continue.

So, for example, if you have a child who has difficulty staying in bed, you might create a sticker chart (beans in a jar work well too) documenting every night that your child stays in bed without getting up. This really applies for the next day where you can praise your child for a job well done (or talk about what went wrong and how they need to try harder), so it's important that you catch your child not too long after they wake up.

Reward systems work best when the praise is immediate.

Depending on what type of system you use, you may want to give your child a bigger reward depending on what they accomplish. For example, ten nights in a row where the child stays in bed might equate to a trip to the ice cream shop or a treat from the dollar store. 

12 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.