When your little one has had enough playtime: understanding their behavior and how to respond

When a baby appears in the family, we try to guess and fulfill all the demands of the little one in order to create comfortable conditions for their life and development. You’re doing great, but there are nuances. With little ones who can’t explain anything, you will have to work a little harder.

child tired

Hearing a non-speaking child

“Why is he frowning? Maybe the bright light is bothering him?”

“We need to wrap the baby up warmer! He’s probably freezing – he’s been fussy all evening.”

“And again, he’s crying… Maybe he’s hungry… or perhaps he’s sick.”

Which young parent hasn’t found themselves in situations like these, where the whole family is trying to figure out what’s going on with the baby and how they’re feeling? Often, the actions of adults have the opposite effect of what was expected. This is simply because they misinterpreted the baby’s behavior, which was signaling some kind of problem.

Meanwhile, recognizing the signals a child is giving and correctly understanding them is one of the most important conditions for natural upbringing.

How to understand if a child is tired

As children grow older, the signals they give off become more eloquent, but their needs multiply and become more complex over time.

In the first few months of life, the key to a baby’s emotional and social development is primarily close contact with the mother and other adults who hold and care for the baby. However, as the baby approaches their first year, they begin to actively explore the world around them and may spend some time engaging in activities that interest them, such as studying bright pictures in a book or playing with a new toy car. Due to the nature of a child’s psychology, it can be difficult for them to focus their attention on any one activity for a prolonged period of time. Bright impressions experienced throughout the day can tire even a three-year-old child, not to mention infants who have not yet reached their first birthday. Periodically, the little explorer requires a break, such as a nap during the day.

Without even realizing it, tired children give off signals that adults can easily identify, which vary depending on the child’s age.

Infants from birth to one year

A healthy newborn baby who is feeling well usually has no trouble sleeping. The little one simply falls asleep whenever they feel the need. However, older babies often become so tired by bedtime that they… can’t fall asleep. Yes, such cases are not uncommon in the practice of young mothers! If the precious moment when the baby needs to go to bed is missed, severe fatigue can lead to nervous overexcitement. It affects the child’s behavior like an energy drink affects an adult: they become irritable and restless, but no less tired.

Here are the main signs that it’s time for the baby to rest:

  • yawning;
  • irritability;
  • leaning their head toward the adult and snuggling closer;
  • unexplainable tantrums;
  • distracted gaze and lack of attention to surroundings;
  • sudden outbursts of crying;
  • tugging or scratching ears;
  • searching for the mother’s breast;
  • taking and rejecting the offered breast, crying in frustration.

“Catch the signals your child is sending and respond to them,” – Martha and William Sears

Signs of tiredness in toddlers aged 1 to 3 years old

It is amazing how a child who has crossed the age threshold of the first year of life differs from a baby who is only a few months younger. The signs that tired toddlers give to adults are generally similar to the behavior of infants in such a situation. However, at the same time, they are much more diverse and eloquent compared to the body language of children who have not yet reached a year old.

Some signs of fatigue in toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 include:

  • The child loses interest in playing and becomes passive.
  • Irritability and fussiness appear.
  • The child is unable to concentrate on anything. He or she may pick up toys one after another, not paying attention to any of them for more than a few seconds, and even throw them in a fit of irritation.
  • Coordination of movements and fine motor skills are disrupted – the child often falls while walking, bumps into objects and people around him or her, and drops small objects while trying to hold onto them.
  • The child vigorously rubs his or her ears, sometimes scratching them until they bleed.
  • The child may be artificially excited and happy – he or she runs and jumps, screams and laughs, but this joy has a somewhat hysterical tone and can turn into an outburst of anger or tears at any moment.
  • If the child is still breastfeeding, he or she begins to demand the breast persistently.

This is far from a complete list of examples of child behavior that indicates tiredness. It is quite possible that each individual child has their own set of tools that they use as a signal that it’s time to go to sleep. For example, a two-year-old girl who did not wait for the traditional bedtime on New Year’s Eve after a fun game simply demonstratively settled down to sleep with a pillow on the kitchen floor, wrapped in a blanket.

Knowing and recognizing the signs of child tiredness will come in handy during the period when a growing child is transitioning from two daytime naps to one. Only patience and close attention to the peculiarities of the behavior of a son or daughter will help parents choose the right moment and make the transition as smoothly as possible.

Child from 3 to 6 years old is tired

Here are some signs for older children to look out for:

  • Loss of interest in activities: A tired child may become less engaged in the things they usually enjoy doing. They may seem disinterested in their toys or refuse to play with friends.
  • Irritability and moodiness: Children who are tired may become more easily upset and prone to temper tantrums. They may also become clingy and seek more attention from parents and caregivers.
  • Difficulty focusing: When a child is tired, they may have trouble paying attention and concentrating. They may also become forgetful and have a harder time completing tasks.
  • Physical symptoms: Tiredness can manifest in physical symptoms such as yawning, rubbing their eyes, and appearing drowsy.
  • Hyperactivity: While it may seem counterintuitive, a tired child may also exhibit hyperactive behavior. This can include running around, being loud, and acting impulsively.

What to do if a child is tired?

When you notice the first signs of fatigue, you should not wait until all the other signs appear – it will be much more difficult to put the restless little one to bed. The best thing to do is to pick them up and start the familiar bedtime routine. For some, this may involve closing the curtains and playing quiet music, while for others it may involve nursing and singing a lullaby. In this case, all means are good if they are familiar and create a comfortable atmosphere for the child to rest.

For infants (0-1 years old):

– Look for signs of fatigue such as rubbing their eyes, yawning, and becoming irritable.
– Create a consistent bedtime routine, such as a bath followed by a book and a lullaby.
– Use a swaddle or pacifier to help soothe the baby.
– Try to avoid overstimulating the baby before bedtime by keeping the lights dim and minimizing noise and activity.
– If the baby is not yet sleeping through the night, encourage them to fall back asleep by quietly singing a lullaby or gently rocking them.

For toddlers (1-3 years old):

– Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, as toddlers thrive on routine.
– Encourage the child to wind down before bedtime by engaging in quiet activities such as reading a book or listening to soft music.
– Try to limit screen time before bedtime as the blue light can disrupt sleep.
– Give the child a warm bath and dress them in comfortable pajamas to help them relax.
– Offer a small snack if the child is hungry, but avoid heavy or sugary foods that could cause discomfort.

For preschoolers (3-6 years old):

– Provide a predictable bedtime routine that includes calming activities such as reading, coloring, or listening to soft music.
– Encourage the child to use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualization to help them wind down.
– Establish a regular bedtime and wake-up time to help regulate their sleep patterns.
– Ensure the child’s sleeping environment is comfortable and conducive to sleep, with a cool temperature and minimal light and noise.
– Avoid discussing or engaging in stimulating activities such as exciting stories or high-energy games before bedtime.


And one more significant piece of advice:

To achieve success in putting your child to bed without any problems, start preparing for it at least an hour before the required time. Exclude active games, visits from guests, loud music, and cartoons from the program. Prefer quiet activities and a warm bath.

Remember that every child is different and may respond to tiredness and bedtime routines in their own unique way.