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Here’s why your toddler doesn’t want to go to bed

Posted on February 7th, 2023

Every parent of young children experiences the bedtime battle from time to time. Some parents experience it nightly. 

With repeated pleas for five more minutes or to tell you one more thing, the bedtime battle can feel frustrating and tiresome. 

But before losing patience with your children, try to understand the underlying cause of their reluctance to go to bed. 

When you know the root cause, you can address it and create a more sleep-friendly environment for your child. 

Some of the most common reasons children don’t want to go to bed are…

  • Not wanting to be alone (separation anxiety) 
  • A bedtime that’s too early or too late
  • Feeling insecure and wanting more attention 
  • Feeling afraid
  • Being overstimulated too close to bedtime
  • Having FOMO (fear of missing out)

Toddlers are creatures of habit with developing personalities. 

Remember, toddlers have complex wants and needs and they thrive on routine. Toddlers may act out if their needs aren’t met or if their routines are disrupted. 

For example, when some children were babies, they may have grown accustomed to their parents rocking them or staying by their side until they fall asleep. These children may want that to continue as they get older. And if it doesn’t, they may have trouble adjusting. 

Toddlers may also try to express their independence through bedtime stalling tactics. Or they may seek attention from their parents, whether that attention is positive or negative. 

Toddlers are better at reading their parents than you might think. So be mindful of how you respond to your children. Your responses may be reinforcing the negative behavior you are trying to curtail. 

For example, a child may not want to go to sleep because they want more attention. And if their parent gives them attention, even to scold them, that child will learn that acting out at bedtime gets them what they want. 

Parents should create a consistent, positive bedtime routine for their children. 

For toddlers to develop healthy sleep habits, consistency is key. When children consistently get their needs met at bedtime (e.g. attention, security, comfort), they are less likely to stall or act out. 

Start the bedtime routine 30-60 minutes before you want your child to go to sleep. Shift the child’s environment into bedtime mode. Turn screens off (e.g. phones and televisions). Dim the lights. And talk in softer voices. 

Perform low-key activities with your child, such as reading a book, singing a lullaby, or simply talking to each other. Use this time to give your child lots of positive attention and help them wind down. That way, they feel calm, safe, and secure when the time comes for lights out. 

You can also help your children exercise their independence by letting them make certain decisions at bedtime. You can let them choose which book to read or which pajamas to wear. This helps children feel like they are part of the process, which encourages them to be more cooperative. 

When it’s time for lights out, you should hug your child, tell them you love them, turn the lights out, and leave the room so the child can fall asleep on their own. You should be kind and understanding but also firm with your bedtime expectations. 

What if your child feels afraid at bedtime? 

Some children are genuinely afraid of the dark or monsters in their closets. Whereas other children say they feel afraid as a stalling tactic. It’s up to you, as the parent, to determine whether your child has a genuine fear or they’re being stubborn. 

If a child genuinely feels afraid, you should do what you can to make your child feel safe. You can give them a nightlight or a stuffed animal or blanket for comfort. You can spend quality time together in your child’s room. That way, your child can build up positive associations with their bedroom, which will help them feel less afraid at bedtime. 

You should also make your child’s bedroom as conducive to high-quality sleep as possible. You can do this by making sure their beds have comfortable pillows and blankets, the temperature is on the cooler side, and the room is quiet. 

If your child doesn’t want to go to bed at night, there’s likely a reason. When you understand what that reason is, you can address it and help make your child feel more comfortable at bedtime. 

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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