Why does my 2 year old scream at bed time?

It’s very common for toddlers to resist going to bed or struggle with bedtime routines. Sleep struggles are developmentally appropriate at this age. However, loud screaming or crying at bedtime can be upsetting and frustrating for parents.

Quick Answers

  • Toddlers may scream or cry at bedtime due to separation anxiety, fear of the dark, or simply not being ready to go to sleep.
  • Establishing a consistent, predictable bedtime routine can help toddlers feel more secure and cooperative.
  • Make the hour before bedtime relaxing with calm activities like reading or bath time.
  • Use positive reinforcement like stickers or praise to encourage bedtime cooperation.
  • Be patient, consistent, and avoid getting upset or angry if your toddler screams or cries at bedtime.

Why Toddlers Resist Bedtime

There are several common reasons toddlers may scream, cry or resist going to bed at night:

Separation Anxiety

Around age 2, toddlers often experience an increase in separation anxiety from their parents. Being separated from mom and dad to go in their room alone can provoke tears or screams. Toddlers this age have a hard time understanding that parents are still present even when they can’t be seen.

Fear of the Dark

Many toddlers become afraid of the dark around this age. Being alone in a dark room can be scary and provoke crying or screaming. Using a nightlight and reassurance from parents can help alleviate this fear.


Toddlers have a notoriously difficult time recognizing when they are tired. They often fight sleep and have a “second wind” right at bedtime. This can lead to crankiness, crying, tantrums or screaming when parents initiate bedtime.

Not Ready for Sleep

Toddlers’ sleep cycles are shorter than adult’s. They may legitimately not be ready to go to sleep at the designated “bedtime.” Being forced to go to bed before their bodies are prepared can provoke protests.

Testing Limits

Toddlers are just starting to understand rules and limits at this age. They are programmed to test boundaries. Bedtime is often a limit that gets tested. Screaming or crying can be a toddler testing parental limits around bedtime.

Seeking Attention

Some smart toddlers learn that screaming or crying at bedtime gets mom or dad to come back into the room. They learn to use this as a tactic to get more time and attention from parents at the end of the day.

What Parents Can Do

While toddler bedtime struggles are developmentally normal, there are many steps parents can take to encourage bedtime cooperation:

Consistent Bedtime Routine

Establish a consistent, predictable bedtime routine every night. This can include activities like bath time, brushing teeth, reading books, singing songs, etc. in the same order each night. Kids thrive on consistency. It helps them know what to expect and makes them feel more secure.

Make Bedtime Relaxing

Make the hour before bedtime focused on quiet, calming activities to relax your toddler’s mind and body. Turn off screens and avoid roughhousing or high energy play right before bed.

Set an Appropriate Bedtime

Make sure bedtime isn’t too early based on when your toddler legitimately becomes tired. Watch for signs of fatigue like eye-rubbing, yawning etc. Setting the bedtime too early can provoke resistance.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Use stickers, praise, an extra bedtime story etc. to reward cooperative bedtime behavior. This positive reinforcement will incentivize them to go to bed willingly.

Nightlight and Comfort Object

Use a nightlight and comfort object like a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to help ease separation anxiety and fear.

Offer Reassurance

Reassure your toddler you are just down the hall and will check on them. Remind them their room is a safe place.

Stay Calm

Do your best to stay patient and calm if your toddler cries or screams at bedtime. Getting visibly angry or upset can make matters worse.

Allow Some Crying

It’s okay if your toddler cries or screams for a few minutes before falling asleep. Completely eliminating all crying at this age is unlikely. As long as they are safe in their room, allowing a short time for them to settle themselves can be constructive.

Consistency is Key

Stick with your bedtime routine every night, even if screaming or crying occurs. Consistency and predictability will pay off over time. With regular practice, toddlers learn to go to bed cooperatively.

When to Call Your Pediatrician

While some bedtime struggles are normal at this age, excessive screaming or crying at bedtime or during the night warrants a call to the doctor. Consult your pediatrician if:

  • Screaming lasts longer than 15-20 minutes multiple nights per week
  • Your toddler is inconsolable or hysterical
  • Screaming escalates over time instead of improving
  • Screaming is accompanied by signs of distress like holding breath, hyperventilating etc.
  • You have concerns that screaming is the result of a neurological or psychological issue

Severe or excessive bedtime struggles may require the assistance of your pediatrician, sleep consultant or mental health therapist to get to the root of the issue.

When Screaming Starts Suddenly

For a toddler who previously went to bed without struggle, sudden onset of screaming or crying at bedtime warrants investigation. Possible causes can include:

  • Illness like an ear infection
  • Developmental leap
  • Stressful event like parent traveling for work
  • Major change or disruption in routine or environment
  • Regression or loss of a skill mastered previously
  • Child abuse

If your previously cooperative toddler suddenly begins screaming at bedtime, take steps to identify if an underlying cause like stress, illness or abuse is the trigger.

When to Seek Help

Consult your pediatrician promptly if:

  • Screaming starts suddenly and represents a dramatic shift
  • Your gut says something isn’t right or feels “off” about the behavior change
  • Screaming is accompanied by other red flag behaviors like increased irritability or aggression
  • Your toddler stops sleeping through the night after previously sleeping well
  • Screaming occurs with signs of distress like holding breath, hyperventilating etc.

While some regression or bedtime struggles are normal, sudden severe screaming warrants medical evaluation to identify if an underlying issue is at play.

Managing Screaming for Your Sanity

Listening to frequent screaming or hysterical crying at bedtime can be stressful and aggravating as a parent. Here are some tips to maintain your own sanity:

Take Turns with Your Partner

Trade off bedtime duty each night with your spouse or partner. This prevents it always falling on one parent’s shoulders.

Use Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Wear noise-cancelling headphones while your toddler falls asleep so you don’t have to hear the screaming.

Leave the Monitor Volume Down

Keep the baby monitor volume low or muted so the screaming is less audible.

Read or Listen to Music

Play music or read a book to distract yourself from the screaming.

Request Help from Family

Ask family or friends to take over bedtime a couple nights a week so you can get a break.

Remind Yourself It Won’t Last Forever

Reassure yourself this is just a phase your toddler will grow out of with time.

Take Time to Recharge

Be sure you build in time to relax, exercise, or do self-care activities every day.

Don’t neglect your own needs. Make sure your cup is filled so you have the bandwidth to handle bedtime struggles compassionately.


Is screaming at bedtime normal for toddlers?

Yes, it’s very normal for toddlers between ages 1-3 to scream, cry, stall, and resist bedtime. Testing limits around bedtime is developmentally appropriate behavior at this age.

What age do bedtime struggles peak?

Bedtime struggles and stalling behaviors usually peak between ages 2-3. Separation anxiety and normal developmental resistance to limits hit a high point right around age 2.

How long will bedtime screaming last?

For most toddlers, the most intense bedtime struggles last somewhere between 6 months to 1 year. The behaviors start fading as kids mature developmentally and gain confidence.

What should you not do when toddler screams at bedtime?

Don’t yell, punish, spank, or get visibly angry if your toddler screams. Remain calm. Giving big reactions reinforces the behavior.

Is letting toddler scream at bedtime harmful?

Letting a toddler cry or scream for a short time is not physically or emotionally harmful. But prolonged, hysterical crying that causes distress or hyperventilation can be problematic.

What helps a 2 year old sleep better?

A consistent bedtime routine, earlier bedtime, night light, white noise, transitional object, reassurance and avoiding screens before bed can all help a 2 year old sleep better.

The Bottom Line

Loud screaming, crying and protests at bedtime are frustrating but normative for 1-3 year olds. Have patience, be consistent, use a predictable bedtime routine, and offer reassurance. The phase will pass. Stay calm, take care of yourself, and consult your pediatrician if excessive or severe.

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