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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 you 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.
- 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 a way as possible. Seriously! Don’t make much eye contact, keep your voice monotone, etc. while you tend to the situation. 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 past 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 the Helpdesk, and you can set up your account, fill out your Family Sleep History form, submit it to a consultant, and get started on the journey to better sleep!
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Have a Professional Bedtime Staller at your house? How are you coping? We love to hear tips from our Baby Sleep Site parents, so share them below!
- Want to tackle your toddler’s bedtime troubles yourself? Why not take a look at our 5-Step System To Better Toddler Sleep? Available in two affordable packages, this book is designed to give you practical, hands-on tools you can use to help your toddler learn to fall asleep on his own, and stay asleep (and stop fighting bedtime!). Best of all, the book is available to download instantly – you can put it to use as early as tonight!
- Want an abundance of resources to help you in your sleep coaching? Consider becoming a Baby Sleep Site Member. Our Members Area is packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! And as a member, you have access to a once-a-week chat with one of our expert sleep consultants – ideal for those times when you need some expert advice! And the icing on the cake? Members enjoy 20% off all sleep consultation services. That savings alone can pay for the cost of membership!