Toddlers don’t seem to have an off switch. Often, when they’re tired, they just reverberate faster, like an overwound toy… until they crash.
The bad news is that some kids seem to be born good sleepers, and some don’t. The good news is that falling asleep is a matter of habit, and all kids can learn it. It may take some time to develop that habit, but your busy toddler can learn to put himself to sleep, and to stay asleep, eventually.
1. Start the wind-down process early in the evening. Toddlers who’ve been racing around can’t simply switch gears and decompress at bedtime. If dad comes home during the bedtime routine, make sure he reads a quiet story with the kids, rather than tossing them in the air as a welcome.
2. Follow the same evening routine every night, if possible. Dinner, bath, stories, then kissing and tucking in all the stuffed animals who share the toddler’s bed, then prayers or blessings, then lights out while you sing to your little one, is common and effective. Beware of too elaborate a routine, because they have a way of expanding to take more time. Your goal is a sense of calm, safe, predictability.
Toddlers who are showing oppositional behavior may resist moving along with the bedtime routine. The best way to sidestep this is to have the clock, rather than you, be the bad guy. “Look, it’s 7:15! If we can get out of the tub now and brush your teeth, we’ll have time for an extra story before lights out at 7:30!” That way, you’re on his side, and he doesn’t need to rebel against you. He also begins to learn about responsibility and making smart choices.