“Can I just have a snack? I’m really hungry… I have to pee…There’s a monster under my bed…”.
Does this bedtime scenario sound familiar to you? When it comes to saying “goodnight”, do the excuses begin?
This is very common with toddlers. It’s their job to test boundaries and they love their work! Although toddlers love to push boundaries, they actually do much better with strong boundaries. Boundaries make life predictable and give a sense of safety, so they are incredibly important for toddlers. There are a number of different reasons for this, but one major reason is that toddlers really want their parents’ attention. This will be particularly true if there has been a major change such as a new baby, one parent returning to work, parents have been on holiday etc. If you’re child is engaging in bedtime games, it’s important to set boundaries and stick to them. This isn’t easy as toddlers can be persistent, but here are my favorite ways to keep little ones in their bed.
- Provide warnings and transition time: Most toddlers need time to transition from one thing to another. If your child is playing, reading, watching tv etc, don’t suddenly spring “it’s bedtime!” on them. Give at least 10 minutes warning and remind your child every 2-3 minutes that it’s almost bedtime. You can use a timer to count down the time or just verbally remind your child that bedtime is coming. Once the time has come, you must stick to it. Don’t give a couple of extra minutes, this tells your child that bedtime is open to negotiation and if you’ve ever negotiated with a toddler, you know you can’t win!
- Make a bedtime checklist: Include everything your child needs to do before going to bed on a checklist. Things like having a snack, brushing teeth, going to the potty are good examples. When your child does each step, check it off on the list, this way when your child gets into bed and starts asking for things, you can remind them that you’ve already done each of them. This is a quick way to stop a bunch of excuses from coming up.
- Have a consistent routine: If you do the same things each night before bed, it’s easier for your child to unwind and know that it’s time to get ready to sleep. Brushing teeth, getting into pjs and reading books are great steps in a bedtime routine.
- Do a “quick chore”: If your toddler is always coming out of the room to find you, let them know it’s time to stay in bed and that you will be back after doing a quick chore (eg. throwing in some laundry, turning on the dishwasher etc). Leave for a few minutes and then pop your head back in and reinforce their good behavior for staying in bed. You may have to repeat this a few times while your child is getting used to staying in bed, but over time, you can fade this out and your child will stay in bed on their own.
- Play “the boring game”: Children often come out of their room as a way to get your attention. Most kids will take negative attention over no attention! If your child comes out, return them to their bed without saying a word. The more you engage, they more they will keep going. If you make it as boring as possible, there will be no reason to keep coming out.
- Use Rewards: If your child is having trouble staying in bed, reward them when they do. You can make a simple sticker chart where your child can earn a sticker for staying in bed. In the morning, make a big deal of putting the sticker on the chart and give lots of verbal praise. If your child is older and needs more than just a sticker, allow them to work for a small prize by earning a certain number of stickers.
- Give “special time” during the day: As mentioned above, children really love attention. Providing them with special time and attention during the day can feed that need for attention in a positive way. Take 10-15 minutes each day or evening where you play with your child with no distractions. Turn off the tv, put your phone away, forget about the laundry you have to fold. Giving your child your undivided attention can prevent them from playing bedtime games, as their need for attention will already be fulfilled.
Toddlers are rule testers 24 hours a day, but bedtime is particularly frustrating for parents as we are exhausted at the end of the day and looking forward to a little time to ourselves. Whenever you start a new routine with a child, it’s important to be patient and remember that it will take time improve the situation. The above tips are very effective and will help you get your kids into bed and allow them to stay there without a bunch of games.