Whether it’s another kiss, a bedtime story, a drink of water, or a different pair of pajamas, children are famous for their stalling techniques when it’s time to go to sleep. If you’re dealing with what experts call “a never-ending bedtime routine,” you’re not the only parent getting played.
Your toddler might pull out shenanigans like singing their heart out and performing a dance routine like the Super Bowl halftime show or bouncing off the walls and jumping jacks. Perhaps they tell you they need to finish a task from earlier in the day, like a puzzle, drawing, or playing on their toy piano.
Maybe your children, who have been fighting all afternoon, suddenly become allies, wrestling on the bed. Some children ask deep, thought-provoking questions before bedtime, like, “where do people go when they die?” Other children aren’t as discreet and reappear in your bedroom doorway when you thought they were sleeping.
You won’t be able to escape every tactic your child uses, but here are some ways to stop your children from stalling at bedtime and ensure everyone goes to sleep at a reasonable time.
Maintain your routine.
No matter how old your child is, it’s challenging to go from one hundred to zero. Simple routines like pajamas, teeth brushing, and bedtime stories allow your child to wind down and get ready for bed. You can create your routine around your kid’s favorite stalling tactic. For example, you could include one last bathroom break and put a water bottle on their bedside table if your child suddenly remembers those needs before going to sleep. A bedtime routine can also help make getting ready for bed a bonding time between parent and child. That goodnight kiss and bedtime story can be a grounding moment for both parent and child.
Offer regulated choices.
If your child is suddenly starving and needs a snack, instead of asking an open-ended question like “What would you like to eat?” try asking, “would you like a banana or apple slices?” Instead of asking what kind of pajamas they want to wear, ask them if they would prefer their car or star pajamas. When you feel like bedtime is out of control, parents need to take back their control but allow their child to feel still like they’re in control. Essentially, you’re setting boundaries and firm limits. For example, you could show them three books and tell them they can pick two.
Don’t word requests as questions.
You might rely on this tactic to show respect and be polite to other adults. However, if you ask your child if they’re ready to put their pajamas on, you should prepare for their honest answer. Instead, try saying, “time to put your pajamas on.”
Use a chart with pictures.
Using a chart with photos can help your child figure out the next step in the bedtime routine by making a bedtime routine chart. A chart can be a visual aid that shows what happens before bed step by step with pictures and words. You can use clip art or drawings to demonstrate your chart or take photos of your child doing each step—children like helping to make their charts when possible.
A chart will help your child stay on track and give them the independence they crave. They can see their chart and understand what’s coming next without you telling them. Instead of giving out stickers as rewards for completing steps, you can have your child put their sticker or a checkmark for each action they do. This tactic gives them age-appropriate power and makes their bedtime routine feel like their choice.
Teach them the importance of sleep.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but children should know that you want them to sleep because it’s an aspect of your job to take care of them. You’re not trying to get rid of them so you can catch up on your Netflix shows. Like they know the importance of treating people with kindness and healthy eating, they should know that sleep is essential.
Address why they resist at bedtime.
There may be a few reasons why your child resists at bedtime, but luckily there are things you can do to fix each of them. First, transitions, like going from playing to going to bed, are hard for children in general, which is why a consistent routine can be beneficial. They might not like the routine, but they know what they can expect. It would help if you also considered that children have fears, like being alone in their room or they’re afraid of the dark. However, well-placed night lights and reassurance can nip those issues in the bud.
Your child may want to hold on to your attention for a little bit longer, but you could fill their attention tank earlier in the day to soothe their need for time with you at bedtime. There’s a 10-minute miracle strategy that involves giving your child your undivided attention for 10 minutes, with no chores, siblings, or screens. In that 10 minutes, you can let your child take the lead in an activity of their choosing.
You could even give this time a name like “Mama-[kid’s name] time.” Allow them to pick the activity and give them all of your attention. Don’t try to teach or correct them; let it be pure playtime together. If you give them 10 minutes of your time while their siblings are taking a nap or when you get home from work and let them know they’ll get more time tomorrow, they might not want to drag out bedtime. These 10 minutes will fill their attention tank, so they won’t have to rely on bedtime stalling to get your attention.
Bedtime stalling is something that every parent is familiar with and understands. Suddenly when it’s time for bed, your child wants to finish a puzzle or dance with you. However, their bedtime stalling may be a cry for attention. Give your child the attention they crave during the day so they won’t beg for it at night.