Bedtimes should be a relaxing moment to cap the end of the day, but it can be a sobbing, frustrating mess for families with kids below five years old because of toddler bedtime tantrums. A new study is shedding light on the best strategy to avoid this mess.
Experts from the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign learned that toddler bedtime tantrums could be avoided if the parents establish a sleep routine with their growing child early on. In a study among 500 new mothers, the experts found out that families with a set bedtime routine for their babies at the age of 3 months old experience fewer bedtime struggles when the baby is 24 months.
According to Barbara Fiese, the lead study author, most people think bedtime routines will only work for older children and adults. However, even a simple routine like reading a book can promote good sleep habits when the baby is a toddler.
Fiese said that their study is the first to look at the effects of setting a bedtime structure for babies in the first two years.
Establishing the Bedtime Routine
The experts surveyed the mothers in four phases when their babies were three months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months. The research involved looking into the child's sleeping habits, bedtimes and wake times, and the number of times and incidents of their sleep interruptions during the night.
The mothers also shared the type of activities they did with their babies, including bathing and teeth brushing, telling stories, or saying good night to the rest of the family.
The experts noted that the sleep hours of babies who had set routines at three months old were longer by the time they were 12 months. By 18 or 24 months, these babies also had fewer sleep problems. In 43 percent of babies with solid sleep routines, nighttime wakings and crying episodes dropped significantly at two years old.
Fiese said that age is important in setting a good sleep routine to avoid toddler bedtime tantrums. However, consistency in bedtime-related activities is also significant.
"Similar associations were found with bedtime-related activities, which increased in frequency as the children got older," the study authors said.
Why Do Toddlers Have Tantrums?
Parenting wellness expert Marcella Kelson said toddler bedtime tantrums happen because the child is still trying to process and understand the experience. Since they cannot communicate nor regulate their emotions well, they resort to crying fits and struggle with their parents.
Kelson reminded parents that tantrums aren't children acting up or showing bad behavior. It's related to a child's language development, and here's where parents should teach them to properly communicate their frustrations.
Meanwhile, Dr. Meenakshi Maruwada said that some toddlers evade sleep and start crying at bedtime because of other reasons, such as fear of separation, fear of the unknown, hunger, illness, lack of physical activity, or overactivity. She also agreed that a bedtime routine should be established with consistency.
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