Does your child try everything in their power to stay up later at night? Bedtime stalling is a challenge but here are 7 practical ways to stop this common bedtime battle and squash bedtime power struggles. Try the Emotions Identification Bundle to help support your child in learning, naming, and communicating their feelings and deep dive into what’s going on, on the inside.
It’s been a long day. School, soccer practice, homework, dinner, reading and now all you want is for your child to fall straight asleep and stay that way for the rest of the night. Instead, you’re hoofing it up and down the stairs, tucking her back in, refilling her glass of water, checking the closet for monsters, scratching her nose and giving her “just one more” kiss.
Sound familiar? My two year old is hitting this phase where she gets in and out of bed like a jack-in-the box, tells me her room is either too hot or too cold every few minutes, complains her knee hurts (but a kiss magically makes it better, of course) or her water tastes funny.
Unfortunately for her, I’m onto her stalling bedtime tactics because she’s the third kid and I’ve already been around this block twice before. This momma isn’t going to fall for her bedtime stalling tricks.
Here is what you need to know when your child is pushing their bedtime limits, the reasons why they do it and how to put an end to this behavior so you don’t log an extra 1,400 steps on your Fitbit everynight.
1. Stick to a Routine
I love having a daily routine for my kids, but especially at bedtime. A routine sets the expectations for little ones on what comes next and when they understand what’s ahead, they’re less likely to push back and fight off bedtime.
For example, your night may go something like this: after dinner, it’s bath time, then pajamas, then reading for 15 minutes, then brushing teeth and finally a couple minutes with each kid snuggling in their bed before the lights go off.
Routine cards are wonderful to help kids remember what comes next all on their own, and saves you from nagging them.
A word to the wise… one of the worst things you can do is spring bedtime on your child. I don’t know any child who loves being abruptly told the day is over and they need to be asleep in a few minutes, do you?
Instead within your routine, give them a countdown. 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 5 more minutes… so they process bedtime is getting closer and closer and sleep is on it’s way.
Download Your Routine Tracker – The Starting Place for Creating a Better Routine and Great Sleep Habits
2. Allow Them to Wrap Up What They’re Doing First
If your kids are finishing an activity, such as a chapter in their book, a puzzle, or coloring sheet, then let them wrap it up in a reasonable amount of time. This may mean giving them five extra minutes to tidy up the activity. It’s OK to be flexible in this scenario because if you pull them out of the activity before they finish, you’re asking for a bedtime battle and there will be no peaceful good night in your foreseeable future.
Get a copy of the Mastering Sleep & Schedules Ebook with suggestions (with times or without times) for newborns through preschool aged children. (Plus 70 pages jam-packed with good info on sleep, routines and all things little kids!)
3. Implement a Reward System for Good Bedtime Behavior
Some kids are more motivated by seeing a visual charting of their progress than others. My kids happen to be fans of sticker reward charts for bedtime and highly motivated by this method. When they reach the finish line on the chart, I have a couple small items from the dollar bins like bubbles or removable tattoos they can choose from as a reward.
Another reward system is the Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light Method.
- Have your child pick out three things they would like to do or have. You should be able to rank these from littlest to biggest value. Examples: a movie you own and they’d like to watch, five extra minutes of screen time, a coupon for ice cream, $.50, a piece of candy in their lunchbox the next day, etc. These don’t have to be new items or toys, they just have to appeal to the want of each specific child.
- Arrange the items where they are visible of the child in bed.
- The first item is the green light (the most valuable item), the second item becomes the yellow light (middle value item) and the third is the red light item (smallest and least valued item)
- The goal for the child is to earn as many rewards as they can by going to sleep without issue.
- Each time the parent has to come back into the room, one of the items is removed. For example, if you come in twice, you’ll remove the green light and the yellow light items. If you don’t have to come in a third time, your child will have earned the red light valued item but if you do come in a third time because they’re fooling around at bedtime, they lose out on all the prizes that night.
4. Say “Goodnight” to Everything
If you take a couple minutes to say goodnight to everything – the dog, stuffed animals, toys, brother and sister, the potty, and so on – kids will see a finality to the night.
They won’t use the potty when they don’t have to, because the potty is already asleep.
They can’t play with Mr. Bear because they’ve already said goodnight and he’s asleep.
Brother and sister are already asleep, so there is no more talking or playing with them, and do on.
When everything and everyone has gone to sleep, there is no more fun things to do and this is when they’ll drift off to sleep.
5. Reiterate How Boring It Is After Their Bedtime
Stalling before bedtime could be your child feeling like they’re missing out on fun stuff that happens after you’ve turned off the lights. Laying in a dark, quiet room is no fun, but if they think Mom and Dad are doing something exciting downstairs, they want to be a part of it too!
Gently reassure your kids that you won’t be doing anything fun. When they hear you have to fold laundry, clean the house and mop the floors, they won’t feel like they’re missing out any longer.
6. Cap Off the Night With a Special Goodnight Message
Saying goodnight sometimes requires a special night cap – not of the alcoholic kind. Think of it as the finishing touch to bedtime; the last period to your sentence.
My kids have a special mantra we use to close out the night. I do it with each of them in their own rooms and now that they know it by heart, I sometimes listen as they say it themselves. It’s not only our night cap, it’s a positive mantra for their little souls to hear and their confidence. It goes like this:
I am Smart
I am Brave
I am Kind
I am Strong
I am Beautiful
Mean Words, and Mean People Cannot Hurt Me
You can copy this or edit it with your own words if you like. We used to say, “I Love You to the Moon & Back” before this mantra started, and sometimes my toddler still slips it in with our nightly mantra, which I adore.
7. Set Bedtime For The Right Time
If your kids are stalling because they’re still wide awake, it might be time to reevaluate the schedule for the day: are they napping too long or too late, getting enough physical activity to wear them out or is the bedtime you’ve set too early for them to be tired enough to fall asleep in 15 or less minutes.
Here is a helpful awake and sleep chart to check your child’s age and see the recommended sleep guidelines of how much sleep (between nap & bedtimes) they should be getting so you can adjust bedtimes if necessary. This sleep chart is good for newborns to adolescents.
Resources for Handling Routines & Sleep
Sleep Regressions: Everything You Need to Know not only gives you an detailed reasoning behind sleep at every age, but also strategies to help you through the 18 month sleep regression and 2 year old sleep regression. You’ll know how to spot a sleep regression coming on, and be equipped with strategies to help you understand the root cause and developmental leaps behind your baby’s sleep struggle.
For a more thorough explanation and resource of keeping a routine, Check out the Mastering Sleep & Schedules Ebook which is 70-pages of jam-packed information and 40+ sample routines. All the tools, sample schedules, sleep tracker and strategies for every age and stage of development for 2 weeks to 5-years-old. Learn how to start the process of creating a routine, establishing wake up and bedtimes, strategies for working through nap transitions, prepping for daylight savings time to keep your routine on track and logging your baby’s sleep patterns to rocking a solid schedule through every age of growth.
Additional Reading on This Topic
- 8 Common Toddler Sleep Problems & How to Handle Them
- Is Your Kid Waking Up Too Early? How to Fix It
- 10 Helpful Ways to Calm the Kid Who Fights Bedtime
- Toddler Sleep Regressions: What You Need to Know About Your Two Year Old’s Sleep
- How to Establish a Peaceful Bedtime Routine for Your Baby
- How to Survive the 18 Month Sleep Regression & 2 Year Sleep Regressions Without Going Crazy
- Comprehensive Sleep Charts & Sleep Guidelines for Infants Through Adolescents
- The Benefits of Having a Daily Routine
- Create an Awesome Routine for Better Sleep Habits