Manipulation, frustration or both? How to deal with toddler tantrums?

Pictures can be so deceiving. Like these, they show a slice of life…most notably, after Potamus has fallen asleep. While he’s never been a good sleeper, per se, the tantruming at bedtime the past few nights has really thrown us for a loop, and I’m not really sure what to make of it.

My gut says that he is a) testing boundaries and b) in need of help transitioning from fun to sleep. Because the first night we noticed it was when grammy and grampy were over, and we noticed him getting tired, so we whisked him off to bed. Arms outrstreched SCREAMING for my parents was heartbreaking, but he was sleepy and needed to sleep. 1.5 hours later, Boof and I exited his room, feeling exhausted and like we had “been to war” (his words, not mine). I realized that we hadn’t given him enough time to transition between the two activities, but hot dang that was like wrestling a smallish alligator.

So, we’ve only just begun really sticking to the bedtime routine of early bed after bath, stories, and nursing. I think the fact that it’s light outside doesn’t help and the fact that he’s nursing but not getting to the milk-drunk state anymore, so he pops off the boob and wants to play. We’re being firm in the rule that he can play on his bed, quietly, but can’t roam the room getting into the diaper genie or throwing blocks. If he doesn’t stay on the bed he can bounce on the exercise ball with Boof. Potamus  is NOT HAPPY about this arrangment.

And this is where I begin to wonder what to do…there are frustration tantrums, where he gets upset when I take a toy away or we leave my parents suddenly, and then there are these moments where I see so much of my own teenage stubborness in him. He was screaming and flailing all around the bed, and then he lulled us into a sense of security, and then BAM, he tried to launch himself over my arm and off the bed to play. It appeared calculated, and Monday-Morning-Quarterbacking, is actually pretty funny. But last night? Last night I was slightly pissed at, what appeared, to be manipulation.

Reminds me of the time that my dad was wrestling me to the ground because I was smashing mugs on our hardwood floor (I was probably 17), and he pinned me and I let myself fall limp for a minute to get him to buy my surrender before I began fighting again. It’s a good strategy in theory, but in both cases, it didnt’ work. After only an hour, Potamus was asleep, but it has left me with a knot in my stomach about what’s to come.

Boof says most parents struggle with bedtime routine, and I want to know from you all…is that true? Do all parents struggle with bedtime?

And I know that Potamus isn’t being manipulative in a Ted Bundy sort of way, because I have some grasp of brain development, but it’s the same thing with our dog…it appears that X + Y behavior = manipulation. It appeared that he stopped tantruming, thought about what he wanted, and then launched for it. I don’t know what to do, I think setting boundaries is important, and a lot of attachment-style parenting is preventing meltdowns by avoiding the stimuli, but what to do?



  1. I think all kids manipulate at some point. Which leads to a struggle. So, yes, I think all parents have issues with the bedtime routine. I am lucky that my kids are pretty good and when they go to bed, they typically do it quickly. I attribute this to being VERY consistent with the time they go to bed, the routine before bed (baths every night even though it’s exhausting with 3), and they are never allowed to come into our bed for bad dreams, etc. So, when the bedtime routine starts, they do pretty good except for calling us in there when maybe they aren’t quite tired yet. How old is your little guy?

    • Thanks! He’s 16 months old, and we’re a semi-attachment parenting style which has meant co-sleeping (and we’re still nursing), so for part of the night I’m in there with him, or he’s with us, though the first stretch of 5-6 hours he’s by himself in his room. He shows tired cues and even crawls into his bed (it’s a montessori bed on the floor) and lays down wanting to snuggle. I feel torn between giving in when it’s just ‘easier’ in the moment and having such firm boundaries that it seems like an iron fist (my parents were like that, and I didn’t like not having some softness to the boundaries). I think we’re just going to have to keep up with the consistency, even though it is way more exhausting!

      • Yes! I would say first and foremost, no matter what your parenting style…consistency is #1.

        I’m a horrible sleeper, Horrible! So co-sleeping for us only lasted about the first 6 months. Then they had to be off to their own rooms. I just couldn’t sleep through all the little squirms and grunts that babies make through out the night. But, then that made me even more tired to go in their rooms and nurse sitting up in a chair!

  2. Funny, my kid (12 months old in 1 week’s time!) kinda does something similar. It helps when I just give her the whole bedroom to roam. I close the door and remove most of the toys on top of the dresser out of her reach. I leave the books and a few simple toys on the floor for her. She has a lot of energy to burn before bedtime and I try to respect that and help her burn it off. It’s also really good for the brain development to “learn” something right before bedtime, so I’ll sing to her while she plays, do the ABC’s, 123’s, say & point the names to things around the room, play hide & seek with a toy around the room, etc….after about 15 minutes she’s ready to tone it down.

    • Thanks, maybe I’ll try that roam-the-bedroom technique. So far when he’s left alone in the bedroom he screams, but maybe if he has a baby gate up so he can roam freely and we come in when he’s ready? I guess it’s all about experimenting on what works?

      It’s hard because I get torn between wanting to have boundaries and also not wanting to be black/white about those boundaries. I’m mostly okay with him roaming the room, except when it’s starting to get super late and I know he’s tired and I’m tired and I’ve been laying there trying to get him to sleep for over an hour. Ya know?

      I like that learning thing right before bed. We just put some blocks in his room, maybe we’ll move night activities to his room, then do bath, then come back to his room so it’s not so novel (he doesn’t play in there during the day) and try a few learning activities to see if it’ll help him unwind.

      • Sounds like a good strategy. I enjoy sitting in her room & watching her burn off the energy. And keeping her company (so I don’t leave her unattended in there & no baby gate). Our mattress is on the floor (we bedshare) so I’ll just lay down and sing or watch her and I’ll use that time to mellow myself out, and eventually she makes her way back to me and we hang out together in this way. Good luck mama! And don’t worry too much about boundaries –there will be plenty of time for that! Until they’re 2yrs old, this is the time for minimizing stress & maximizing the peace. 🙂

      • Of course, right after I wrote this he had a good night…while it took just as long to get him to sleep, there were no tantrums, we let him lead the way and he was happy to read books and listen to music on his bed. He then slept for 6 hours straight and only needed me in the early morning hours. Sniff. What a sweetie.

  3. We struggle too, not all nights but there’s plenty that we do. Does he still nap? We had to cut out louise’s nap because it was difficult to get her down and once she was, she still wouldn’t fall asleep until around midnight.

  4. Yeah, he takes 1 nap during the day. Most days he is exhausted by naptime and seems to sleep okay. If we don’t put him down for a nap things have gotten worse. He will then go to bed early, but be up around midnight wanting to play (or worse, up at 4am wanting to play!). I’m just baffled by it, and am hoping that maybe it’s just a phase? Milestone? And he’ll be back to sleeping good once his teeth come in?

  5. Well, I think it is totally normal and a developmental stage, but then again, we keep our kids caged in their cribs until they are literally at the stage where it feels like we have overgrown veal calves in crates, so they can’t get out and roam about. In my experience, thought, sleep comes in cycles and always gets messed up when they are going through some sort of growth spurt, teething, sickness, etc. Hang in there. It is hard to have perspective when it is going on, but it will pass. Your consistency and compassion are laudable!

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