Ideas for parent whose toddler does not want to go to sleep

Annette Abma

From the archives: Posted on 13th July, 2000

A Poster wrote:

“Hi everyone. I am very new here and am enjoying the few posts I have received. If you don’t mind I’d like to jump right in with a common parenting scenario because I am totally clueless as to how to ‘be’ lately.”

Welcome to the list 🙂

“Lately we have no “schedule.” Never had, actually. The main thing I struggle with is bedtime because I don’t get enough sleep and so I end up cranky and not as patient as I could be. (I haven’t slept all night long for 3 years.) My children sleep with me. I would like my toddler to sleep in his bed but he doesn’t want to. We have a queen bed next to our king bed and he often sleeps there – not ideal.”

I think not having a schedule is good because it is important to be flexible about everything if one is to take children (and oneself) seriously. Perhaps it would help if you didn’t associate sleep with night-time and simply slept when the children slept (whenever that might be). In my experience, children usually sleep at least 10 hours. Could you not get enough sleep by following their schedule? Also, it might help to sleep when you can and not expect a full night’s (or day’s) sleep.

“The main thing is the actual GOING to bed. He is a typical toddler who just doesn’t want to go to sleep.”

I don’t think that it is “typical” for toddlers to not want to sleep. Toddlers usually want to sleep when they are tired, just like anyone else. The problem is often that the child is simply not sleepy when the parents want him/her to go to bed. The solution: don’t expect others to sleep when you want them to. Respect their bodies and their right to sleep when they feel tired.

“I feel as though I’ve tried but would like the Taking Children Seriously viewpoint. Also, [the baby] likes to fall asleep in our arms and stay close to my breasts all night. I think I’ve just reached a very dry, burned out time in my life right now. Maybe if I were better rested I wouldn’t mind being more accommodating but right now I feel as though their wants/needs are in conflict with my wants/needs.”

Or…maybe if you were more accommodating you would be better rested :-)…You might begin by identifying the problems according to situations rather than people. So, the problem is not that the children won’t sleep when you want them to, but that you are not getting enough sleep. Find/create ways of solving this problem that do not involve coercion. Some ideas: ask a sitter/friend to come play with the children for an hour or two each day while you nap (older children are often great for this and will do it for very little money); sleep when the children sleep; work out a flexible “schedule” with your husband so that you can sleep in shifts; do lots of fun things throughout the day so that the children tired and happy by the day’s end; have a television in your bedroom (or a bed in the tv room) and play videos for the toddler while you sleep with the baby (the toddler can join you in bed when s/he’s ready)….These are just some ideas to get you thinking. The important thing is that everyone is happy with the solution and that the solution is always open to change and revision.

“I know the post isn’t quite as eloquent or clear as I’d like, but I’m certain you know the feeling/situation I’m talking about.”

Indeed! Again, welcome to the list. I hope this helps.

Annette Abma, 2000, ‘Ideas for parent whose toddler does not want to go to sleep’,