Each night you plan to follow a bedtime routine, but are so busy, you often get started later than you intended.

You spend special time with your child, including a fun activity so your child ends the day happy.

Then, when it comes time to actually complete the bedtime tasks, your child falls apart and you find yourself handling bedtime tantrums.

When a child “falls apart” during the bedtime routine, it is most likely due to over-stimulation. 

Over-stimulation tantrums usually occur when young children are hungry, tired, or overwhelmed. They don’t know how to handle these physical changes and “fall apart.”Bedtime Over-Stimulation Tantrums

This could happen if your child is having such a good time during the bedtime routine activities that your child doesn’t want the fun to end, but your child’s body just can’t handle any more stimulation. If this is the case, your child’s behavior will not seem deliberate; it will seem like they are having a meltdown.

If over-stimulation is the cause of your child’s bedtime tantrums, use The Parent’s Toolshop® Universal Blueprint® problem-solving system and “PASRR response formula.”

  • Prevent the problem so everyone can get the rest they need and deserve. 
  • Acknowledge feelings to prevent or de-escalate bedtime tantrums caused by over-stimulation. 
  • Set limits so children have guidelines and learn appropriate bedtime behavior. 
  • Redirect misbehavior so children learn appropriate ways to calm down for bed. 
  • Reveal discipline so children understand the consequences of their behavior at bedtime.

 Prevent the problem:

  • Start to reduce your child’s activity level about ½ – 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Consider what you include in the bedtime routine and the order in which you do it.
  • Lights, sounds and interaction can either be soothing or stimulating. Notice how your child reacts to these, to determine whether to include them in your routines.  The article “Looking for Bedtime Routines To Make Bedtime Peaceful?” describes several interactive calming “games” you can use at bedtime.
  • Try altering the order of the bedtime routine. For example, baths relax some children so much it should be the last thing they do before hitting the sheets. For other kids, it’s so energizing and stimulating they get a “second wind.”
  • At other times besides bedtime, teach your child how to listen to his body, how to recognize when he’s over-stimulated and what he can do to recharge. Help him understand what’s happening. You need to repeat these lessons and be patient until children mature and master these skills.
    • Explain that “Our bodies are like cars; they need energy to run. Food and sleep give us this energy. Whenever our bodies feel shaky and we start to cry or get cranky, it’s our body’s way of telling us we need food or sleep. If we listen to our body and give it what it needs, we will be happier and have more energy for fun.”

If/when your child starts showing signs of “falling apart,”

Acknowledge feelings:

  • Point out that you know your child still wants to have fun, but their body is telling them it has run out of energy.

Set limits:

  • Describe the behavior you see and say, “That’s how your body tells you it needs some sleep.”
  • Don’t say, “You’re tired” or “You need sleep.” You are sure to hear, “No I’m not!” or see the bedtime tantrums escalate.

Redirect behavior:

  • Offer acceptable options that will help your child calm down.

Reveal discipline:

  • Until your child’s skills improve, remove the source of stimulation, which might be you!

For details on how to solve all ten bedtime challenges get the “Halting Bedtime Hassles” resource package, so you can make bedtime a peaceful time for all.  

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Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is President of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. For 30+ years, Jody has trained tens thousands of parents and family professionals worldwide through her dynamic workshops and hundreds of interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines. She is the author of the award-winning book The Parent’s Toolshop®, and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds, plus other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.

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