Toddler tantrums can flair up at any time. The last thing you want is a bedtime tantrum, but sometimes your child will treat you to one for good measure.
Tantrums can happen for a number of reasons. Your toddler might be overtired, have a real fear of something, feel like he or she is missing out on something or might have gotten his or her way the last time.
Additionally, parents might be tired from parenting or working all day, might have a real fear of losing their cool when a tantrum begins and are missing out on something — private time or their own sleep — but this is what you need to know so you can remain calm and cool.
• Have a consistent bedtime routine. This way your child will know what to expect. Toddlers need a good hour of down time before bedtime. This routine might be a small non-sugary snack and drink of water, a warm bath, teeth brushing, 10 minutes of quiet play while in bed, reading with mom, night light on, back rub from dad, blankets up, a favorite soft comfort toy, a kiss and sweet dreams. Be sure there is no rough-housing such as wrestling around, or viewing a wild action packed cartoon before bedtime.
• Pre-teach calming techniques at neutral times throughout the day. If a tantrum begins, you cannot introduce a new idea to your toddler in the midst of it and expect them to do it. No matter what a person's age, no one wants to feel controlled. So three times a day have your toddler practice controlling his or her emotions. Have your toddler hold up three candles (his fingers) and slowly blow them out or hum a favorite lullaby with you.
• Address your child’s fears. If your child expresses a fear of a monster, a noise or separation from you, address it. Spray that magic “keep out” mist around the room (diluted old perfume bottle), put on a bathroom fan or quiet music to drown out house noises, or have a family photo or mom’s old teddy bear at their bedside.
• Remain calm and quiet while addressing a bedtime tantrum. If your child cries, yells or comes out of the bedroom, don’t start a huge conversation, but lead him to bed quietly, pull the covers up, tell him to stay in bed, that you love him, will see him in the morning and walk away. He already received the privilege of a good tuck in earlier that night so keep this job a quick one. This way you are not ignoring, but you are not engaging either.
Showing your own frustration by talking loud, grabbing a hand, walking fast or even a heavy sigh will only feed your toddler’s fury, so your patience is important. You may do this night after night, but your toddler will soon learn the routine and recognize that the end result of a tantrum is still just bedtime. For more information about navigating bedtime, check out the Boys Town guide to sleep issues at www.boystown.org.
Laura Kelley, crisis counselor for the Boys Town National Hotline and the Nebraska Family Helpline, wrote this guest blog for momaha.com. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and her Masters in Early Childhood. She is a former preschool teacher in the Omaha Community. She has three boys and lives with her husband of 25 years in Omaha. Learn more about the Boys Town National Hotline by clicking here.