Last updated on Jul 8th, 2015 at 11:46 am
For anyone who’s lived with a toddler, you know that they are often one big package of smart, funny, amazing, stubborn, defiant and strong-willed. You can love and adore them to pieces but there are those moments too when they can drive you bonkers. They’re cute and cuddly but between the tantrums and the nap changes and the crib-to-bed transition, they can leave a parent exhausted at the end of the day.
When it comes to bedtime, toddlers can quickly become experts in bedtime stalling. You know how it goes…what used to be a quick bedtime routine now becomes just one more story, a drink of water, the sudden need to use the potty (again!) and on and on it can go until you’re well past bedtime.
Why does toddler bedtime stalling happen?
Toddlers love their independence and they love to be a part of pretty much everything. It makes sense that they aren’t too keen on going to bed because they believe they will miss out on everything else that might happen while they’re sleeping. To a toddler, bedtime and sleeping are boring! It’s dark and quiet and there’s no one around to play with. To this end, many toddlers will reach deep in their bedtime stalling bag of tricks each night just to be able to stay up for a few extra minutes.
While managing your toddler’s bedtime stalling can be quite frustrating, keeping her on track to bedtime without upsetting her too much is important because we all know that a sobbing, upset toddler probably isn’t going to fall asleep soon or easily.
Below are five gentle techniques you can try to help ease your toddler into bedtime without an epic battle of wills:
1. Countdown to bedtime
A toddler who knows bedtime is coming will likely be more open to bedtime than if you wait to tell your toddler it’s time for bed without warning. Starting about 30 minutes before starting your bedtime routine, give your toddler little reminders that it will soon be time to get ready for bed and some even like it if you set a timer. Try to keep activities short in the last 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime as a long, engrossing activity will be harder for her to stop doing.
2. Tell everything ‘goodnight’
As you start the bedtime routine with your toddler, go through and say goodnight to everything. This might include people in the house as well as objects in her room or on the way to bed like toys, books, the potty and even her toothbrush. This will reinforce with that everything is going to sleep for the night and may help her feel a little better about going to bed herself. This can help to reduce additional requests for books or trips to the potty by reminding her that the potty and the story books have already gone night-night.
3. Be flexible and offer choices
Give your toddler at least a few options (that you are fine with!), so he can also feel like he has some control over his bedtime routine. Tell him he can read a few more books or play with a few sleep time toys for a few more minutes, if he promises to stay in bed and not call out for you constantly. Whether or not this works will depend on the temperament of your child so you’ll need to use your best judgment on using this technique. It also won’t work for younger toddlers who aren’t yet communicating verbally, but may work with older toddlers who have basic reasoning skills.
4. Set up a bedtime sticker chart
Sticker charts can often work well for toddlers by motivating them and giving them a sense of accomplishment when new stickers are added. Create a chart that includes the different steps of the bedtime routine. Put your toddler in charge of adding new stickers for each step once they’ve completed the previous step with good behaviour. The stickers provide an immediate sense of accomplishment and positive reinforcement which can help stop the bedtime stalling.
5. Keep interactions boring
If after everything, you find your toddler is still stalling or getting up repeatedly, keep all interactions after that point as boring as possible. In any interaction with your toddler after tuck-in, keep eye contact to a minimum, keep your voice low and unexciting and try to limit all talking as much as possible. Don’t come across as angry but just try to be a neutral as possible to let your toddler know that fun time is over. By keeping it boring, you are giving your toddler less incentive to want to get up or stay awake and call out for you.
Keep in mind that most toddlers are truly tired at bedtime and are stalling because they don’t want to miss the action. Too tired and they can downright fight sleep. However, it’s also possible that they aren’t tired at all which can indicate a scheduling problem such as too much nap time or not enough awake time between your toddler’s nap and bedtime.
Remember that bedtime stalling is ultimately a discipline issue. Your toddler needs your help in understanding and obeying your direction at bedtime just as she does throughout the day. Help your toddler understand the expectations for bedtime and sleep by setting limits and enforcing them.
And lastly, if your toddler isn’t sleeping through the night, then your issue may be bigger than just bedtime stalling and could be a symptom of a bigger sleep issue. If you’re struggling with your toddler’s sleep overall, then consider downloading our free guide, Toddler Sleep Secrets for some additional information and help for improving your toddler’s sleep.
Article credit: The Baby Sleep Site® (http://babysleepsite.com) is owned and operated by Nicole Johnson, a baby and toddler sleep coach, and the mother of two young boys. More than 600,000 parents visit The Baby Sleep Site each month to find solutions for their children’s sleep problems, including personalized, one-on-one sleep consultations, comprehensive e-books on sleeping through the night, schedules and taking better naps, free articles and blogs on timely topics and strong community.