When your child is two or two and a half, you may find yourself a participant in series of bedtime rituals that are a toddler’s way of making the transition from being awake with plenty of company to being asleep alone. All the simple, practical processes are elaborated into a carefully choreographed ceremony: the bath, brushing the teeth, putting on pajamas, and selecting the right stuffed animal and the right book for the bedtime story. Everything must be in the same sequence every night or the spell is broken, so beware of adding any new elements that disrupt the ritual. Also beware of the delaying tactics that some children try to slip into the ceremonial routine: I went to change pajamas; I want another drink of water; I left something downstairs.
Your child may be more skittish about sleep on days when he has endured long separations from you or when he has experienced other daytime worries. The proverbial monster waiting at the foot of the bed after rears its head during this period of childhood. You should demonstrate to your child that you are in charge and able to protect him – even if it requires your loudly banishing the demon from the house.
Try to make bedtime the same time every night or as nearly the same time as possible. But keep your attitude toward your child’s sleep positive and nonpunitive. If he is having trouble getting to sleep, do not try to force or threaten him. Your child needs to be shown; instead, that sleep is a welcome and pleasurable retreat. You can help foster this attitude by teaching him to cherish his bedroom as a pleasant heaven for comfort, rest and security, rather than making it seem like a place that he is banished to for punishment.
Although many children consistently go to bed voluntarily, some do not, especially when the rest of the family is awake and doing interesting things. Give a 10 minute and a five minute warning as the time to start the bedtime ritual nears. If your child insists on putting up a fight about going to bed, try a neutral signaling device, such as an alarm clock. This way, the source of the unwelcome news is impersonal, and the child cannot argue with it. Let him know that you understand how much he does not want to go to bed, but tell him firmly that it is, nonetheless, his bedtime. If he is playing, assure him that in the morning, he can return to what he was doing. Sometimes children feel less victimized when they are given options: “You can either go get in bed now, or you can kiss me good night and when get in bed.”