Four C’s of Setting Limits – Banish Toddler Bedtime Sleep Struggles

Toddler Sleep Help, Setting Limits with Toddlers

We’ve dealt with the biggies in Part 1 and 2 of Toddler Sleep Help. Part 3 will be discussing how we need to set limits with your toddler while implementing what I have already discussed. Setting limits can be the biggest struggle and for most of my parents toddler bedtime sleep struggles can be hard! I often ask parents to step back and ask themselves:

who is training whom?

Most are surprised with the answer. If your toddler is training you, it’s time to turn that around.

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I get it. I have 3 kids. It’s tough to say no sometimes and to set those limits and boundaries for our kids. We don’t want to upset them or cause battles. Well mom and dad, limits need to be set even where sleep is concerned. Or kids are going to try and get control, but it’s time to step up, mom and dad, and fight the fight! When we allow them to have control at bedtime they feel insecure and unsafe with not knowing what is expected, and that is when they begin to act out. You can re-establish control at bedtime and have boundaries, without screaming and yelling at your child. When your child knows the routines and rules and understands that they are followed consistently they will thrive from these steps taken by you.

Four C’s of Setting Limits With Your Toddler


You need to take the control back at bedtime. I always say nap times and bed times need to be treated as any other non-optional time during your day-to-day. You likely have pretty consistent meal times, correct? Times when your little one needs to sit down at the table and eat their breakfast, lunch or dinner? They don’t question these times or fight you when you call to them to come sit down because it’s something that is done every day. It’s never an option to sit down and eat. Well sleep times need to be treated in the same fashion. Once we make it optional – “okay you can miss your nap today” or “fine one more cartoon but then it’s time for bed” they will treat the days where you are trying to be firm with naptime or bedtime as a joke. If you are in control of these times from the beginning your child will never fight you on it because it’s just part of their day-to-day like eating their meals. Why try and test it with you? They have always been doing it.

Tip! You can be in control of bedtime and what happens during the routine but still allow your toddler to have choices. This will help them feel like they are in control without testing the boundaries. Let him choose which pajamas he is going to wear or which toy he can bring to bed. Keep it easy and fun.


Discuss your sleep rules with your little one and make sure they understand what you expect. Open up a healthy relationship between your child and sleep by explaining to them why they need to sleep and why it’s important. Ask them how they feel when they have had a good night of sleep and how they feel when they haven’t. When they understand why they need to go to bed it will be easier to get them to do so. And don’t forget to let them know how them sleeping through the night makes YOU feel. “Wow, mommy feels so great and is so happy today because you let me sleep all night last night.” They will feel proud that they helped you sleep better and want to continue doing that.

Tip! One of my favourite bedtime stories that really helps open up that sleep communication is I See Animals Sleeping: A Bedtime Story from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.


When sleep rules are broken there should be consequences and it’s important to communicate the consequences before this happens. Don’t forget the follow through!  Toddlers wise up very quickly to empty threats. If you give in a little bit one day they will take it and run. Make sure consequences are relatable to your child and immediate so they know why they are happening.

Example: “I will leave your door open but if you leave your room once I will shut it.” “If you come out of your room I will have to put up a gate at your door to help you stay in there.” With both of these consequences you are following the 1 strike rule.


Consistency, consistency, consistency… Did I mention consistency?  No matter what method you choose or how you schedule your routine, please remain consistent. I can’t stress that enough. Consistency is key! Once you have carved out your schedule and implemented it, your best chance to success is to stick with it. Be patient. With time and consistency, your kids will learn how to get the healthy sleep they need.

Part 4 of Toddler Sleep Help will be on naps and when and how do we transition to one or none. A bittersweet time for all and a major transitional time for our little ones.

Alanna McGinn
Alanna McGinn
Alanna McGinn is Founder and Certified Sleep Expert of Good Night Sleep Site, a global sleep consulting practice. She is host of the ‘This Girl Loves Sleep’ Podcast and author of ‘This Baby Loves Sleep’. Alanna has established the world-wide brand of Good Night Sleep Site as being a #1 sleep resource for families and her and her team of sleep consultants strive in helping families (baby to adults) and corporations overcome their sleep challenges and have well-rested smiles in the morning. You can find out more about Alanna McGinn and how to work with a Good Night Sleep Consultant at www.goodnightsleepsite.com and follow Alanna and all her sleep tips on Instagram - @GNSleepSite.

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