Toddlers Stalling at Bedtime
Toddlers are fascinating creatures, aren’t they? Watching them develop into thinking, creative little people is such a fascinating time, and one that parents often wish would last a little longer.
Of course, they usually wish that after their little one has grown out of the toddler stage, because along with that creativity and new found intelligence, we usually see a lot of boundary-testing, which can be a frustrating experience.
When I have my initial consultations with the parents of a toddler, there is usually some kind of amusing story surrounding bedtime. They’ll tell me, sometimes a little sheepishly, about how their little one gets three or four stories a night, sometimes five. Then they usually ask for a glass of milk that they’ll only drink a few sips of, then they want to say goodnight in a very specific, drawn-out way, then the parents are forced to lay on the floor for an hour next to their child's bed waiting for them to fall asleep, or maybe chasing their child back to bed twenty times before they finally crash. The parents will end up looking at each other wondering how on earth they got to this point.
Whatever the bedtime circus is, it always happens the same way... a little bit at a time.
Toddlers love to test boundaries. In fact, I think they are biologically obligated to do so. When it comes to bedtime, they know that the one thing you want is for them to go to sleep, so they’ll use that to their advantage. I know it sounds a little diabolical, but it’s their way of seeing where your boundaries lie and how much authority they actually have.
So one night they ask for a glass of milk, and the parents think, “What’s the harm?” The next night, they ask for a glass of milk and an extra story. A week later, they want a glass of milk, an extra story, three hugs and two goodnight kisses. Little by little, these crazy bedtime routines get established, all according to what the toddler wants.
So here is a simple, two step solution to this issue:
1. Establish a short bedtime routine.
2. Never deviate from it.
That’s it. It’s that simple. I won’t lie to you, sticking to the rules can be a challenge because they’re going to ask, test and complain, but if you stick to your rules, they’ll understand sooner rather than later that the bedtime routine is not up for debate. Having a bedtime chart with pictures can be quite helpful in keeping both you and your toddler on track. If your toddler makes a request that is not on the bedtime chart, then the answer is simply “No, that’s not on our bedtime chart”. A good bedtime routine should be no more than 30 minutes. I suggest a bath, pajamas, brush teeth, read 2 books, then lights out.
Having a clear and predictable bedtime routine benefits both of you, in spite of the fact that your little one might not agree. Toddlers take a great amount of comfort in knowing that you, the parent, are firmly in charge and are confident in your decisions. It gives them a sense of security. If you start allowing them to make the decisions, they actually start to feel like they’re in charge, and that feeling that Mom knows what she’s doing starts to fade.
Additionally, a predictable, repetitive bedtime routine is greatly conducive to a good night’s sleep. It signals the brain to start secreting melatonin and signals the body to start relaxing muscles in preparation for a restful, relaxing snooze.
The best part is you’ll never have to explain to your friends why you have to make your little guy pancakes at ten at night in order for him to go to bed.