Toddlers are fascinating, aren’t they? Watching them develop into thinking, creative, independent little people is such an intriguing 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-pushing, which can be endlessly frustrating.
It is common for my clients to have pretty drawn out bedtime routines each night before we work together. I’ve had families tell me that it can take up to 3 hours to get their toddler sleeping for the night. By that time, they’ve lost their entire evening and have to head to bed themselves.
Over time, bedtimes shift from a joyful experience to one filled with anxiety, stress, and chaos. If you’re the parent of a bedtime-staller, I want to help you get things back on track!
Create a bedtime routine chart
I’m going to assume that you have a bedtime routine that you follow pretty much every night. It may be something you’ve done for months/years without even thinking much about it. Now that your toddler is pushing back around bedtime, you’ll want to make the bedtime process absolutely black and white and leave no room for negotiation.
The most age-appropriate way to do this is to create a bedtime routine chart that uses pictures to spell out the steps of your bedtime routine. You and your child can follow along with the chart each night to stay on task, and you can even use a timer to help things flow more smoothly.
Avoid “just one more thing”
Toddlers love to push boundaries and test limits. Bedtime is a pretty firm limit in most households, so it is natural for your toddler to try to see how much leeway there is around that boundary. This oftentimes look like stalling behavior.
There’s a saying, No one is thirstier than a toddler at bedtime. And there truly is no truer statement. You may have experienced endless requests from
- A glass of water
- An extra story
- One more minute of back tickles
- One more hug
…and the list goes on.
Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to build a “last call” into your bedtime routine. This is a time for you to slow down and ask your child “is there anything else you need” before tucking them into bed.
By allowing your child to stall within the limits of bedtime, you will actually be helping them go to bed more quickly.
Pro tip: if you are using a Hatch toddler clock, try the color system! During the bedtime routine, the clock is green. During “last call” the clock is yellow, and when it’s time to get in bed, the clock turns red/goes off.
Toddlers are gamblers. They like to play the odds. And if your boundaries change even once a week, that’s like winning the lottery once out of ever seven times you play. I’d play daily with those odds!
Firm, consistent routines benefit both of you in spite of the fact that your child might not agree. Toddlers actually 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 begin to feel like they’re in charge which to toddlers can feel very alarming.
If your child initially has big feelings around the boundaries you set, it’s not a time to give in. Think about getting strapped into a rollercoaster: we often will push against/pull at the straps to make sure they’re nice and secure. If they loosen, that’s pretty scary! We want those straps to stay firm and secure – it makes us feel safe. The same is true for toddlers; they want you to be their unwavering thermostat during their big feelings and tantrums.
Toddlers special little humans; they are fiercely independent, very opinionated, and have a ton of stamina. It can be exhausting and frustrating to engage in bedtime battles night after night with your child, and it can be difficult to know how to handle things when it feels like you’ve tried just about everything! If you’re currently struggling with this, then let’s connect and get a plan & support in place for you.