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How do I stop my toddler screaming at bedtime?

Help, my 21 month baby suddenly does not want to go to sleep.

Up to now he has been a brilliant sleeper - going straight down and usually sleeping through the night. 

But for the past week or so he has screamed and screamed every time we have put him to bed. It is heart breaking. He now screams for between 20 and 30 minutes before falling to sleep. If we go in to comfort him it seems to make the situation worse. 

We have two older children and I think he now realises that they go to bed later than he does. But even putting him to bed at the same time doesn't seem to work. 



  • hi there,

    sorry your having a tough time, my son did this at 20mnths, and sadly the only thing that worked was leaving him, like you said going back makes it worse, jack would go crazy! he stopped after 2weeks, seemed like forever but slowly he calmed and after 2-3weeks everything was normal again! I just used to creep in before i went to bed and peep at him to reasure myself.

    Sorry i havent given much advice but i didnt know what to do either, best of luck hun xx

  • As Laura said,it is just a case of leaving him.As long as you know your son's not ill,not hungry,not in pain,it's only making it worse keep going back to him.If he works out that when he cries you come back,he'll go on doing it.

    I did find around two some of mine started needing less sleep,and not too late in the day,if they were to go to sleep without messing about.Of course a calm predictable routine every day helps too,especially at bedtime.

    It's probably just a phase,and if you stick to his normal routine,and don't give in to the crying it should pass .We have had this with some,maybe all of ours.The worst was my eldest,who kept it up,every nap and all night for a fortnight,but we kept going with his normal routine and it did stop.

    Good luck

  • My daughter is doing the same just now and my son goes through phases of it, just trying their luck I think.  I've just found its a case of perserverence like with most things and the phase passes once they realise they're not getting there own way.  If he's going to bed when he's tired he just needs to relearn going to sleep again.

     You have my sympathy though cause it is hardgoing and heartbreaking, I hate hearing my kids cry but I'm determined to have well behaved children who aren't spoilt

  • Hi I've only just discovered this site and boy am I glad I have !
    My 20 month old son has just started crying when we put him to bed exactly as Rachel describes !  I couldn't find anything on other parenting website forums soit comes as a huge relief that it is not only us !
    We pandered to him when he first started doing it but quickly realised that he was fine and just didn't want to go to bed. We have tried cutting the daytime nap both completely (bad idea) and to only half an hour or an hour (also bad idea). He was foul and then would be over tired and would cry anyway ! I have now limited it to an hour and a half and don't let him sleep past 3pm. I put him to bed at 7pm, although recently have put him down at 6.30 so if he does cry he goes to sleep around the right time. He will then sleepfor 11-12 hours. 
    I am 32 weeks pregnant with no. 2 and don't really want him to stop his daytime nap as I have a nap then too these days ! But nor do I want him to scream for anything between 15 mins to 2 hours to get off to sleep. He has slept through since he was about 10 weeks and has only started done this the last month or so.  If anyone can suggest anything to solve this before the new baby arrives I would be so grateful !!
  • hiya kirsty,

    first of all welcome, im laura mum to jack 2 and lola 8mnths.

    Ive been through this and have a close age gap with both of my babies, with jack i cant do anything about his naps otherwise hes just horrible and gets upset etc, but i also dont let him sleep past 3ish.

    As harsh as it sounds the only thing that worked for jack was to do the normal good night routine, and leave if he got stressed id give it five minutes, kiss cuddle and back into bed, and then that was it unless he cried for over half an hour, the main reason i went back was because he was in a bed and i didnt want him sleeping on the floor, it passed in a week of leaving him, hard as it was im glad i did it!

    he now sleeps 7pm-9-9.30ish then if were at home sleeps 11am-2ish or if were out two lots of 1/2hr.

    A few nights a week he gets up and plays for a while but now he gets back to bed himself and is very happy there.

    Hope little ones settled before baby arrives xxx

  • Hi,Kirsty.

    As Laura said you just have to stick to the routine.Your son still needs a nap(and so do you)and cutting it out makes it worse not better,as long as you don't let them sleep too late.

    Keep doing what you're doing.As  long as you stick to it,your little one should go to bed easier.We've had brief spells of this with all of mine.They all try it on.The crying at bedtime doesn't last long,as long as you're consistant with bedtimes and returning them to bed if they wake with as little fuss as possible.

    All of mine go to bed perfectly happy.

  • Thanks for your replies. We have had 2 out of the last 4 nights without any crying, but it seems to be ok if it is me putting him to bed rather than his Dad ! I don't want to have to put him to bed every night so we are continuing with the shared approach. I keep out of the way if Daddy is putting him down.
    Will keep an eye on this forum as I'm sure there will be other things I'd like advice on !
  • glad things are getting better, both of mine have had phases of mummy or daddy being the favourite its frustrating but your doing the right thing x
  • I am currently having this problem with my 22 month old.  It has been going on for almost a month.  I thought at first it was because we nixed the pacifier...however, he was better with that soon after we got rid of that--now it'sonly gotten worse!!  We try letting him cry or scream it out but is awful.  I just gave him 1 pacifier tonight because I am at my wits end...and he didn't seem interested; so I guess it is not that.  Once he is asleep he sleeps through the night.  We do a bedtime routine every night, that doesn't seem to help, because he knows what is coming and gets very anxious and panics as we are walking to his room.  I was hoping that this would be over by the time I started teaching in Sept. but it seems to only be getting worse!!


  • Thank you all for sharing! It really helps me feel not alone. My daughter is nearly 20 months and doing this tantrum screaming thing before bed at night, before naps, and even waking in the middle of the night 1-2 times and screaming for a bit after I go in and feed her and settle her and put her back to bed. It is exasperating and it's only been going on the last few nights! She only recently started sleeping thru the night last month and it had been so nice up to this point after all the bedtime drama and frequent wakings (probably has to do with breastfeeding, I'm sure...seems formula fed babies sleep longer and heavier than the BF ones). I wish there was something to do to make it better, but it seems letting her cry it out for about 20-30 min. does the trick. It's not so bad in the middle of the night, only 5 min. or so. I am just praying this phase passes ASAP and that I can tuck that sweet little princess back in with all her stuffed animals all around her, whisper "goodnight" and have her whisper it back and leave the room with her quiet and peaceful, because this is a nightmare. It must be that they are either teething or just learning/experiencing so many new things that they just don't want to sleep or that they have a new sense of separation anxiety.
  • Just  seen the time of this post.Poor you.

    All the posts above will show you it's a common problem,but it also passes.

    Routine is important .A calm predictable routine,bath bed story,not too much excitement.If your daughter is  used to being settled by a breastfeed  she'll want that.If that's not on offer,maybe try a beaker of water if she's thirsty,she may cry but that will stop.You said  letting her cry it out seems to work.The 20-30 mins will get better.

    It does pass,this is just a phase.It's very tiring.That's hard when you have to carry on a normal the next day.Hope it passes soon for you

  • my little man started the middle of the night tantrums 2wks ago, theyre fun! lol, he always wakes about 3am when the neighbour gets up for work and goes into a major rage, we cuddle him give him warm milk and settle him again and he goes loopy when we leave but he now just screams for 2mins and lays down, it gets better, feels like it takes forever though doesnt it?
  • My 2 yr old has been doing this for 2 weeks... Nothing is helping. I feel like a zombie he does it at bedtime after his normal routine and thendoes it again in the middle of the night and it goes on for 2-3hrs. What makes it worse is I am so anxious that he will wake my 3 month old I lay away all night just waiting for one of them to wake! I'm at my wits end with him and don't know what to do anymore!!! We've tried ignoring him, laying with him, talking nicely to him and comforting him, giving him extra stories, extra milk and yelling at him NOTHING WORKS... Even tried Supernanny tricks and none of them work!! I'm at a loss and I'm starting to feel incapable of looking after my 3 month old because of my lack of sleep from my 2yr old!!! HELP ME!!!
  • Hi natalie,

    my sons still doing this, its been going on for a month and i also have a younger one, but 9mnths, and i have the minute one sleeps the others disturbed and often find myself laying there waiting' its soo frustrating, for the past few days hes only been getting up to scream when someone went upstairs so weve been settling lola in the travel cot downstairs so once hes in bed its silent, he often plays a little while before a nap/bedtime so was disturbing lola occasionally and wed go to settle her and hed kick off, so we then sneak her up at 10ish and so far weve only disturbed him once, its not ideal but i darent risk his night problems affecting little ones routine i worked so long to make! Since keeping her downstairs weve been able to do controlled crying and its working, not as fast as it did when he was 6mnths but its improving, we now just have settling tantrums and maybe one if we wake him, 

     sorry i cant offer much more than that, but best of luck xxx

  • hey im  dad that has run out of ideas... my 18month old son just wont go to sleep with out cryin. ive tried the :let him cry himself to sleep" but he keeps on cryin every single night.I just dont know what to do his mother and i are so out of ideas PLEASE help us. this has gone on for months and we have #3on the way and this just is not goin to work
  • hiya chris,

    not sure how much i can help, i have one sucess and one total failure!

    i have Jack who is 28mnths, when he wakes i go in, check nappy etc, offer milk/story and so on after being re settled hes left to cry if he starts again, i pop in and out every now and again to check hes still ok. Hes now calmed down and only needs us to pop in give him a hug and set music off again, maybe some extra milk.

    Lola on the other hand, just turned one, and is a complete madam, she screams her self silly until shes sick so we do gradual withdrawal with her, sit by the cot and slowly move away. most days it works others it doesnt, tonight she is in the buggy again because jack is too tired to be kept awake until 10 again! I really dont know how to solve this one!

  • As I read you messages I am listening to my 19 month old son scream himself to sleep.  He has done this.....always.  The older it gets the more "passion" he is able to display.  The thing about the whole drama he kicks up is that he doesn't do it for his Grandmother when she has him and if my husband were home to go in and sooth him he would go to sleep.  Just me...he likes to torture me personally!  I feel reassured that the "let him cry it out" technique seems to work.  I had the habit in the past of giving in and nursing him, but we are cutting that out this week and he is none too pleased about it.  Some children are just incredibly stubborn and "spirited"  I think it is safe to say we all have "spirited" children.  I wish he could talk so that he could at least give me some indication of what is problem is, but I know he basically wants to sleep on me.  I am always so amazed at the children who go to sleep so easily.  I wish it wasn't such a horrible feeling to let them cry and I wish they didn't allow themselves to get so worked up.  I have learned that going back in only seems to make matters worse as well.... *sigh*  We are rounding the 20 minute mark.... no signs of giving up yet! 

     No one told me parenting was like this, god bless his little soul, but man oh man!  What a trip image

    Good luck everyone!!!

  • My eldest has started to kick off at bedtime with screaming fits and tantrums, she started the day I brought no3 home, she is almost 4.  She does it most nights, is slightly better when she knows daddy is working nights but I have tried everything but so far nothing has worked.

    My youngest is now 7mths old and now also goes to bed at 7pm and sleeps through until 8ish.  THe older girls share a bedroom and somehow my 2yr old can sleep through her.  I had put it down to the baby disturbing her and tried keeping her downstairs but no change, the only breakthrough we have made is that she can hear the stair gate open or shut and then shes out of her room in seconds.

    There have been many nights I've woken up to see her standing by my bed because she didn't know where I was.  I'm consoling myself with the fact that she does it for every single person who has put her to bed but is ever so slightly better for me when I'm alone and at least the younger 2 sleep through.

    The health visitor pronounced it an attention seeking phase and to ignore it until she grows out of it but its not so easy when you are listening to it every night for 7mths.  I've tried having one on one time with her, keeping her up a bit later than her sisters until 7.30 but no joy so far.  I'm longing for the day when she outgrows it!

    We have a consistent bedtime routine most nights but when I'm alone and it gets interrupted by the baby she seems to settle better so we are now considering how we can change it slightly so the circumstances are right for  all 3 to go to bed easily every night.  Short of me and my husband going to bed at 7pm every night we haven't come up with anything yet!

  • What about trying a reward for going to bed without a big fuss,and for staying in bed.Maybe a sticker  chart,with a prize at the end of the week.Or maybe she has that extra half hour of  one to one time on the understanding she then goes to bed quietly,or she won't get to stay up late the next night.Make that half hour special time,more grown up storytime,or whatever you think she'd like.Maybe she could play or watch TV while you bath the two little ones and put them to bed,then she has her own bath and bedtime routine with you.

    My 5 year old responds well to now you're 5 you can.... argument.Apparently there's all sorts he can do now he's five.

    It may well be attention seeking,but wait till she grows out of it isn't much help to you.

    Hope you find something that works

  • Thanks for the advice, stickers and reward charts just do not interest her.  Have had a bit of progress with "your nearly 4 so you can stay up a bit later" but then she caught chicken pox and now on top of the itchy scabs her ezcema is infected so she is one very ratty and fed up little girl.

    we have only had 2 weeks this year when every person in the house has been 100% well, someone has been constantly coming down with something or slowly recovering and I'm wondering if that has messed up her concept of a bedtime routine.  She has also been waking up much more through the night itching until she bleeds.  I'm hoping it will all settle down soon and she will get a decents night sleep and things improve.  My mum helpfully said it is because her dad works shifts but obviously I can't change that!

    I can't imagine how you manage with 7 if one starts like this! 

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