5 Gentle Techniques For Managing Toddler Bedtime Stalling

Top 15 Reasons for Night WakingDid you know I have a toddler at home? I do – she’s a beautiful, smart, funny little 2.5 year old. She’s amazing, and I adore her with every ounce of my being.

Did you know that I have a toddler at home? I do – she’s a stubborn, defiant, strong-willed little tyrant. She’s exhausting, and she sometimes drives me batty.

Yep – both are true, readers! And I know those of you with toddlers at home can relate. They’re cute, but between the tantrums and the napping changes and the crib-to-bed transition, they’re also pretty draining!

Here’s something we’re currently dealing with in my home – bedtime stalling. Have you experienced this, too? What used to be a quick bedtime routine, followed by a few minutes of kisses and cuddles and then lights out, is now a becoming an epic battle. And just when I think I can finally turn off the lights and shut the door, I’m met with another stall tactic.

So, why do our toddlers try to stall bedtime? And (most importantly), how can we deal with our tiny stall-tactic masterminds? Let’s take a look!

Why Do Toddlers Stall At Bedtime?

This is pretty straightforward, and many of you have probably figured this one out on your own. Simply put, toddlers stall at bedtime because they just can’t stand to miss the action. From your toddler’s point of view, bedtime is boring – it’s dark, no one else is around, and there’s nothing to do. But staying up and playing? That’s fun stuff! No wonder, then, that our toddlers sometimes try every stall tactic they can think of, just so they can stay up for a few extra minutes.

5 Gentle Techniques For Managing Toddler Bedtime Stalling

Whether it’s calls for ‘just one more drink’, or endless battles over which jammies to wear, or multiple trips to the potty, toddler bedtime stall tactics can be frustrating. So how can you keep your toddler’s bedtime on track without upsetting her too much? (Because let’s face it, a sobbing toddler probably isn’t going to fall asleep easily!)

Well, for starters, you can try one of the 5 gentle techniques listed below:

  1. Institute a count-down. One of the worst things you can do is surprise your toddler with bedtime. Instead, starting about 30 minutes before you plan to begin the bedtime routine, start giving your toddler little reminders that bedtime is coming. On a related note, make sure your toddler doesn’t get involved in a long, engrossing activity right before bed – it’ll be hard to get her to stop.
  2. Say ‘goodnight’ to everything. As you go through the steps of your bedtime routine, encourage your toddler to say goodnight to everything he sees (think Goodnight, Moon here). Goodnight to the toothbrush, goodnight to the potty, goodnight to his books and toys, etc. Remind him that it’s night-night for all of his things, and it may help him feel a little better about going night-night himself. This can also help minimize the requests for ‘just one more’ – for instance, if he wants ‘just one more’ trip to the potty, you can let him know that his potty has gone night-night.
  3. Be a little flexible. Strike a deal with your toddler – maybe you can agree that as long as she stays in bed and doesn’t call for you constantly, she can look at her story books, listen to music, or quietly play with a few ‘sleepy’ toys. This won’t work for every child, though, so use your judgment on this one. And it’s not a technique you can use for young toddlers, either – it works best for older toddlers who can communicate verbally and who have basic reasoning skills.
  4. Try a bedtime routine sticker chart. Sticker charts can be huge motivators for toddlers. Create a chart that outlines the steps of your bedtime routine, and then make a deal with your toddler. If he can get through each step with good behavior, your toddler can put a sticker next to that step. This provides an immediate incentive for your toddler to stop stalling and cooperate.
  5. Bore the pants off your toddler. Even if you do everything right, you may still find yourself dealing with a staller. Here’s what to do – after you’ve tucked your toddler into bed and left the room, be sure that if you interact with him again (either because he’s calling for you, or because he’s gotten out of bed), you do so in as boring of a way as possible. Seriously! Don’t make much eye contact, keep your voice monotone, etc. Don’t seem angry – just neutral and dull. Basically, you want your toddler to see that you are ‘done’ for the night. The exception to this rule would be if your toddler wakes after a nightmare or night terror and is truly frightened. In that case, offer as much love and comfort as you can!

I’ll end with three final bits of advice…

First— while most toddlers are genuinely tired at bedtime but stall because they don’t want to miss any action, other toddlers may be stalling because they aren’t actually tired at all. In these cases, you might have a scheduling problem on your hands. Your toddler may be napping too much during the day, for instance, or the nap may be happening too close to bedtime. It’s also possible that bedtime may be too early.

Second — remember that ultimately, bedtime stalling is a discipline issue. Your toddler needs to learn to obey you at bedtime, the same way you would expect him to obey you during the rest of the day. Need help in setting limits for your toddler? Check out this article, with tips on how to set limits and boundaries.

Finally — if your toddler still is not sleeping through the night, then your problem is bigger than mere bedtime stalling. In this case, bedtime stalling is just a symptom of a bigger sleep issue. But don’t worry! While toddler sleep issues are indeed tough, we can help! Our team of consultants has helped countless families work with their toddlers to achieve better sleep. Take a look at our consultation packages, and see which one looks like a good fit for you. Once you purchase, you will immediately receive access to your Helpdesk account, and you can get started on the journey to better sleep!


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12 thoughts on “5 Gentle Techniques For Managing Toddler Bedtime Stalling”

  1. Thanks! Yes, it is new, so hopefully it will be short-lived. He dislikes pull-ups even more than diapers! He potty trained himself at 22 months because he hated wearing diapers so I simply told him that when he learned to go in the potty he didn’t have to wear diapers anymore. It took him 4 days to stay dry all day while awake! (I doubt my 18 month old daughter will be that easy though.) I do limit his fluid intake after dinner and make sure he uses the potty before bedtime. I might try the nighttime pass idea, he can go once after we put him to bed, and in the early morning I will just hope it doesn’t last! 🙂 Tanks, again!

  2. my son is a little over 3 yrs old and has starting becoming aware of going potty at night. He’s been potty trained during the day for a year, but now he is really wanting to not wear a diaper at night. And, this is all coming from him! I have no expectations for a 3 yr old to stay dry all night. He has been staying dry at nap time for a couple months now and he doesn’t wear a diaper for nap. I put a diaper on him at bedtime and he gets in bed, says good night, and is fine for about 30 min. Then he needs to use the potty, which he does independently. I go up, put the diaper back on, cover him, and leave. 30min to an hr later he does the same thing. Then it typically one more time between 4 and 5 am! He goes potty, at this point the diaper is wet so I put a dry one him and cover him up and leave. Then he sleeps til 7 am. I want to discourage the frequent bathroom trips, but don’t know that I’m comfortable telling him, no you can’t use the potty at night. Any ideas?

    • @ Rhianna — Oh, man! This is so tough. On the one hand, you need sleep, but on the other hand, you hate to discourage progress and bladder-awareness. Let me ask – is this a new thing? If so, then there’s a decent chance he’ll outgrow it sooner or later. Another idea – what if you were to use a pull-up instead of a diaper? Would he be able to manage the potty trip on his own, without your help? Get up, do his thing, and get back into bed without you? If so, you may want to focus his efforts in that direction.

      Hope this is helpful, Rhianna! Good luck to you – I’ve potty-trained 3 kids, so I know first-hand how hard this particular stage can be!

  3. Our nearly three-year-old has never really slept through the night (maybe 5 times?) and I don’t mind that she now wakes up and comes into bed with us – it’s sorta sweet.

    But bedtime is such a struggle since we stopped nursing nearly a year ago. She goes to bed pretty late and we have to sit with her in bed the entire time until she falls asleep.

    I’m thinking her birthday gift to me could be this. Would your work help us find a way to shorten bedtime and help her go to sleep on her own? I’m not confident she’s well rested and if she sleeps through the night that would be a bonus!

    • @gus&otto — yes and yes! We could absolutely work on helping you craft a bedtime routine that’s shorter, and that features less you. 😉 And yes, we can set up the plan so that it focuses on helping your daughter to gradually fall asleep on her own, without help from you. Sleeping through the night is a totally attainable and reasonable goal for an almost-three-year-old, and we can help you get there! You can see all the service packages here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/ If you have questions about which package is best, you can chat with one of our customer service reps, or you can leave a message and a customer service will reply.

      Thanks so much for commenting! And best of luck to you as you work through your daughter’s sleep challenges 🙂

  4. @ Heather — oh, okay, I see. Likewise — the idea of managing bedtime stalling with twins makes me want to curl up in the fetal position! I don’t know how moms of multiples do it – they all deserve superhero capes 😉

  5. Oh no, not twins. I just meant that each of our kids has had the biggest problems with stalling at age 3. The idea of twins at the stalling stage makes me shudder. 🙂

  6. @ Heather — wait, three year olds, plural? Twins?? Oh, man – no wonder you find this phase maddening! Double the stalling!! 😉 Seriously, though, your card idea sounds pretty genius. And I think discipline strategies like that, that empower kids to make choices (in this case, deciding when he/she will finally use the card) are fantastic. They’re effective at enforcing boundaries and teaching obedience, but they put appropriate amounts of control in the hands of the child, which I think is great practice for the larger amounts of control and power they will have as they get older. Nice work! 🙂

    Thanks for commenting, Heather, and for sharing this tip!

  7. In our house, it’s the 3 year olds who are World Class Stallers, and we usually just have trouble once they’re actually in bed. One thing I’ve done with a few of them is the bedtime card. I have them decorate a little card with their name and some pictures, and then I give it to them at bedtime each night. If they want to call me back for something after they’re in bed, they have to give me the card, and then that’s it. No more call backs. Anything else is considered to be an obedience issue, and is dealt with accordingly.

    That makes it sound way easier than it really is, but it does help. The stalling phase is a really, really maddening one for me.

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