It happens like clockwork.
The moment the phrase, “It’s bedtime” escapes your lips, your toddler has a million and ten requests.
“I need to go to the potty.”
“I have a question…”
And guess what?
It’s never a one-and-done thing. The minute you fulfill one request, your tot pipes up with another.
This is a common occurrence in many households, and I lovingly call it “stalling.”
Your child is stalling the inevitable – bedtime.
While this can be frustrating or exhausting, especially after an already long day, it’s important that you have a plan of action so that you don’t lose your cool. The last thing we want is for your child to go to bed after a blowout with you.
So I’ve compiled my best tips here for you to try. With any of these tactics, I recommend giving it a full week or two before deciding it doesn’t work.
Make Sure Your Child’s Needs are Met Before Bedtime
First, make sure your child’s needs are met. Before they can sleep well, and before we can rest easy as parents, we need to make sure their physical and emotional needs are met.
They’re well-fed. They got cuddles. They had some laughter before bedtime.
I think it’s important to start here because in the mad-rush of bedtime, it’s easy to forget that our little ones have needs that we need to fulfill.
I’ve found that having a bedtime routine works great to ensure all needs are met. At a bare minimum, your child needs to be full – full belly, full emotional cup, full sleep pressure – before they can sleep well.
When you create a bedtime routine that ensures your child is full (feeding them/giving them water, cuddling with them during story time, and timing it right so that they’re tired), it’ll make the whole process much easier.
Anticipate the Bedtime Requests
My 2-year-old randomly got in the habit of stalling at bedtime by asking for more food. Even if she just ate a filling dinner, the moment we started taking her to the room, it’s like she’d suddenly remember she was hungry and start crying for more food.
For a while, we’d give in and give her yogurt or cheese (and then have to brush her teeth again), because we thought she might legitimately be hungry. But when I realized we were in a classic bedtime stalling stand down, I switched the approach.
Before brushing her teeth, I’d tell her it was bedtime and ASK her if she was hungry.
If she said yes, we’d give her a bedtime snack. If she said no, we’d say, “Okay, then let’s go brush your teeth.”
Of course, the minute we laid her down, she’d start asking for food again. But by anticipating her request before she started asking, we were able to get a better gauge of whether she was really hungry or not.
This can work in many other ways:
- Take your child to the bathroom before bedtime.
- Make sure their water cup is full and easy to access.
- Let them pick which books to read.
- Make sure they’ve said goodnight to everyone/all their toys.
When you notice the same bedtime stalling tactics or requests from your child, instead of waiting until you’re about to walk out of the door for them to ask, offer that thing beforehand.
Set Expectations – and Stick to Them
Lastly, set expectations and stick to them.
If the bedtime requests have gotten out of hand at your house, sit your child down and explain to them what you expect.
“When we go into your room for bedtime, that’s it. There’s no coming back out.”
“When it’s time for bed and we tuck you in, mommy and daddy are going to do some work and won’t be able to get you anything else.”
Before we can expect our children to NOT stall or make requests, we need to communicate with them.
Then, when it’s time for bed, remind them of those expectations.
“Do you need anything before we go into your room? Once we’re in there, you’re going to climb into bed and go to sleep.”
If they ask for anything else, hold to what you told them. You know their needs are met. You know they need sleep.
If you find this last step to be the hardest, I recommend grabbing my free bedtime pass. Here’s how it works:
- Print out the bedtime pass and pick a day to introduce it to your child.
- Sit your child down and tell them that when they go to bed, they’ll get this bedtime pass.
- The pass is good for ONE thing – one more cuddle, a glass of water, one request.
- If they need anything, they’ll have to give mommy or daddy the bedtime pass.
- If they don’t need anything, they hold on to the bedtime pass and turn it in in the morning.
- If they turn it in, they will receive an incentive. (Yes, incentivize your child! There’s nothing wrong with that!)
The incentive doesn’t have to be elaborate – a sticker on a chart, a checkmark on a calendar. When they get a certain amount of those stickers or checkmarks, they might get their favorite breakfast, extra time outside, a movie, etc.
If your child does redeem their bedtime pass for something, you’ll still have to hold to the rules: only one request is granted.
I know this may be hard, but showing your child that you mean what you say is important.
This doesn’t mean you need to be cold or mean if your child has another request – in fact, I encourage you to be kind and loving during this process. They’ll need a lot of support as they’re learning rule enforcement.
And of course, trust your judgment.
If your child says they need to pee but they’ve already redeemed their bedtime pass for a drink of water, you can let them go if you know they need to.
Listen to your gut. I promise you, your instincts are never wrong when it comes to your child!