10 answers

20 Month Suddenly Screaming at Bedtime & Naptime

My son is 20 months old and has always been an excellent sleeper. He's on a regular sleep schedule and we typically put him in his crib while he's still awake and he talks/ sings until he falls asleep and usually sleeps about 11 hours.

Early last week, he started refusing to go to sleep - screaming, throwing things out of his crib (blanket, lovey)and standing up / jumping up and down. This goes on for about an hour and sometimes he falls asleep, but other times we have taken him out of his crib at the 55 min / 1 hour mark and rocked him to sleep, then put him back in his crib to sleep. He's also been doing this at daycare for his naptime.

I'm worried about a number of things, including: he's not getting regular sleep, the screaming is miserable for everyone, we're developing bad habits by needing to rock him to sleep.

Has anyone run into this at this age? How did you handle it?

What can I do next?

More Answers

This is typically the age the battle of wills comes into play (terrible 2s). It may be that he is wearing himself out earlier and is over-tired at the time you put him to bed. Try looking for signs of sleepiness earlier than usual. It could also be possible teething (2yr molars). These actions may even be due to something new/different going on in his life. It's hard to tell.

I hope you can figure out what is happening.

Have a GREAT day!


S. I feel sorry for you, I've been down that road twice and soon a third. I've asked my childrens doctor and he told me with my oldest, who is now 8. And he said its just a faze, where they are scared they are going to miss something. He told me to just let my kids cry it out, and I did, it killed me each time I had to do that, but now my kids dont cry at bedtime becuase they know that mommy said its bed time. I also learned that it helps, now I learned this with my second who is now 3, that when you have your child get ready for bed, you should also get ready for bed. With my son if he thinks I'm going to bed, he knows he isnt missing anything so he is willing to go to bed. What I did to help me was put a t.v. in my room for something to watch for about an hour. I wish you luck, just remember its a faze.

Hi S.,

I have a 19 month old who is experiencing similar behavior, and I can totally understand where you are coming from, but I have to say that I disagree with about 75% of the other response. I don't think it is ok to have him scream for an hour and I think that on a bad day, rocking your child to sleep is perfectly normal!

We had to stop and think and look for symptoms of the problem, not just treat the behavior - it could be teeth, growth spurts, it could have been something that happened at daycare at nap time (i.e. - he felt left out of an activity or attention another child received, or something startled or scared him), it could be slight change in routine, only you will know, but start thinking about things taht might be have occured to cause the disruption.

We discovered that on a particularly windy night here in Colorado a few weeks ago, the window in my daughters room rattled really loudly - which startled her and woke her up - which we believe was the source of the temper tantrum like behavior that continued for almost a week at bedtime.

Instead of forcing her back in her old routine, we started some new ones - brought out some new books, starting a new routine with her stuffed animals,etc...

I also learned taht at this age, kids can start to have night terrors - and there is really very little you can do about it - if you think that might be a problem, you can email me back and I will find an article my mom sent to me about night terrors and send it to you - it was very informative and really helped me feel better about being a parent in these situations.

best of luck!

I am also dealing with this with my 17-month-old son. I agree with Kayce O. I have also figured out that my son is suddenly going through some seperation anxiety right now (normal at this age again), so your son may be falling into that category. My son is in a toddler bed, so he can get out on his own and come to the gate, but if there is a night that he needs me to rub his back or Daddy to lay with him, we do that and then go back to his normal routine the next day. Like Kayce O, if he is not responding to the old routine, feel free to change it up...we put a "tent" in my son's room and that is where he has been going to sleep the last few days and I just put him back in his bed when he falls asleep. When he wakes in the night, do what you need to to get him back asleep...rocking, drink of water or rubbing back...if you don't do it EVERY night, it won't stick, believe me. I have to do that especially when my son is teething and as soon as the tooth pops through, he is back to his normal routine without much of a fight. If it isn't separation anxiety or something scary, it might be teething or night terrors...my son has those too and will just cry and scream but not seem entirely awake and will even push me away sometimes until he figures out that it is me...just be patient and talk calmly to him until he wakes up a little more. We also got my son a Glo-Worm that he can turn on in the night if he is frightened since it acts like a nightlight for him. Anyway, I think you and Kayce and me just need to persevere...it is a stage and will go away, I hope, but just do what your son needs to get through this stage. Good luck and think of me too when you are up in the night...I'm probably up too :-)

S., 26, mom of 17-month-old son and #2 on the way in late Aug

you may want to have his ears checked. I have noticed that occasionally with my girls, who are good sleepers as well. That is usually one of my clues to take them to the doc to check their ears. Often the pressure build up makes it painful for them to lay down.

If he is cutting teeth this is a huge sleep disrupter. Also growth spurts can cause shift in sleeping patterns. It also can be just being a toddler and testing you. Try changing up your bedtime routine. If it is a battle start sooner so he is asleep then by his normal time, stinks but at least he will go down at his normal time. IF he goes to bed at 7pm then start the process at 6pm, no joke.
If he is overly tired, it backfires into tantrums and screaming too.
If you are worried about bad habits, then do not do it. Let him throw things out of his crib, let him scream for an hour. Sounds harsh, sucks hearing your baby cry but to be honest kids are AMAZINGLY stubborn if they want something and he knows the end result will be you rocking him so there you have it. If you want the behavior to change you have to do the work, and work it is! :)

Make sure his naps don't need adjusted either, you have to change things up sometimes to accomodate their changes.
He should at his age have about a hour to two hour nap after lunchtime, find out if things have changed at daycare.
Make sure he isn't cutting molars, which are painful, try motrin before bedtime to get him relaxed, even teething tablets (which don't last long). Make sure it isn't an ear infection as those are painful laying down.

Do not rock him, no matter what. IF he is being disruptive at daycare find a plan B, a good daycare will have that for you, if it means moving him into a room away from the kids that need sleep.
If it is just stubborn toddler behavior it will take a while but he will catch on!
Good luck.

I have recently had to deal with this also. I also reverted back to rocking and then a couple of weeks ago my husband and I had had enough. So we would go thru our normal routine of getting them ready for bed and when we got to their room we would hold them and let them put their head on our shoulder and we talk to them. I'm amazed at how much they are starting to understand. But we just tell them "It's time for bed now, so we need to shut your eyes and go to sleep." Hold him for a minute give him a hug and kiss and tell him that you are going to put him down now. My girls used to throw such fits when I'd put them in their crib but once I started talking to them and letting them know what I was going to do it seemed to make things much easier. Some nights they fuss for a couple minutes and other nights we never hear a sound.

I will be honest though, I do rock them at nap time. I put them in their crib, let them play for awhile, go up there and lay them down again and usually on the 3rd time I'll rock them. But by this time it usually only takes about 10 minutes.

Kids are sure complicated!!

My son did this at about the same age. Just excited about all that he is learning. We had to kinda let him cry it out. I had to start comforting him from a distance, not picking him up. It was hard and took three or four late nights of staying up listening to him, but eventually we broke the habit and he was back to normal sleep schedule.

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