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.
In this article, we’ll take a look as why toddlers stall at bedtime and more importantly, some tips for how to manage your toddler’s bedtime stalling.
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 your toddler 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 behavior. 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 out of bed, 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.
About The Baby Sleep Site®
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.
Whether a family is struggling with a baby who won’t fall asleep at night or a toddler who just doesn’t want to nap, The Baby Sleep Site tailors every approach with individuality in mind. They don’t offer one-size-fits-all advice or pass judgment on individual parenting philosophies. Their thoughtful, thorough and firm approach makes them a savior for sleep deprived families everywhere.
I take care of my 2 nd 3yrr old gransons and they give me the run around at bedtime.I just give them some warm milk,put the Tv an lights off,nd then theyy fall asleep eventually !
Oh boy — I remember the days of trying to get my son to sleep! Some of them were quite challenging. This is great information for parents of young children.
Yes. Always bath massage book boob bed 🙂
Thankfully my boys have never given me a problem about bedtime. These are such fantastic tips…I will be tweeting this out since I know so many people struggle with this!
These are some great tips!!! Thankfully my toddler still asks to go to bed lol…. Only if this would last forever! Lol
Wow, this is so true at my house. Bed time is all about stalling even with my first great. Thanks for the tips.
Ohhh I should try that 2nd one.. I never thought about it. Not that I have a baby but I have a niece who tends to.. stall whenever its time to sleep, lol.
Thank you for these awesome tips! I love the sticker chart idea! I have two boys–2 and 3 year old! Bedtime is always hectic, but it is great hearing them chat and giggle after we leave the room from tucking them in. 🙂
“Tell everything goodnight.” My nephews say goodnight to clocks and tvs lol. They open the dishwasher sometimes and say night night to the dishes! hahaha
I have a 3 year old, he sometimes sleep well and sometimes give trouble. He wants to sleep between his dad and I, trying to break the habit.
These are really great tips. I always dreaded bed time when the kids were small because they stalled forever it seems. I’ll keep these in mind for the grands.
My girls were masters of bedtime stalling. It was annoying at the time but now it’s fun to tease them about it since they are grown.
Omg! The things I’ll be “looking forward to” when I become a parent 🙂 🙂
I do everything except for the chart! I think it’s really important for both parents to be on board…my husband is SO bad at not sticking to #5!!!!!
These are some great tips for parents who has a hard time putting their kids to sleep. Luckily I never had issues with mine.
These are great tips to help with bedtime stalling!!! I stall even as an adult it seems theres always more to do.
Telling everything goodnight really helps, it makes it clear it’s time for bed!
This is totally awesome tips for stopping toddler bedtime stalling. I will have to share this with my sister and niece who both have lil ones. The Baby Sleep Site is truly amazing. Thanks for sharing.
Our toddler is definitely into stalling. For us, he’s potty training, and uses that as a stall tactic. We feel stuck – wanting to encourage him telling us/using the potty, but also know he’s stalling bedtime. We’re working on it.
My 7 yr old says goodnight to his stuffed animals still, lol. It does help get him ready for bed, but it can be time consuming so we start very early. 😉
I love your ideas for bedtime stalling. I have never considered the sticker option. I will try it with my daughter
I couldn’t agree with #5 more. My son was convinced that parties started as soon as he went to bed.
This is an awesome post thank you for all the great tips I will be trying some of these.
Great tips. We need to try saying goodnight to everything. Giving choices has sort of “expired” in our house, in terms of effectiveness: Would you like to brush your teeth or do PJ’s first? (Answer: “No”.) *sigh*
In the vein of “nothing interesting happens after bedtime”, we just ordered the book “I’m Really Not Tired” to add to our collection. I’m hoping it will help in the discussion about how she’s really not missing out on anything. (Except for the awesome roller-coaster that appears in the basement only when she’s asleep.)
REHANA SEEDAT I sing a lullaby to help baby sleep. She loves hearing her favorite sound – my voice – and the soft, soothing melody calms her.