How to Stop Toddler Bedtime Stalling – Tips That Actually Work!

toddler girl sleeping in bed with stuffed toy

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Techniques to Help our Little Ones Get to Bed and Stay in Bed

Your toddler seems so comfy in bed, you say goodnight, and you are ready for your well-deserved time to relax in the evening.  And then:

“Mommy! I have to go potty,” “I need a drink of water,” “Mommy, where is my blankie?”  You guys have all heard the one-liners your toddler comes up with just as they get tucked in bed, right?

You are not alone in dealing with toddler bedtime stalling.  Most little ones will try some tactics to avoid bedtime.

Keep reading to find out some tried and true tips to stop the bedtime battles.

Why Does Toddler Bedtime Stalling Happen

Us Parents Are Awesome!

There are many reasons why your toddler tries to avoid bedtime.  One reason is that toddlers adore their parents and find them quite amazing! 

Our toddlers think we know everything. We show them the world and seem to have so much fun!

They just want to be around us as much as possible!

Dad and daughter laughing in bed

Therefore, your little one will try and do anything to stay with you instead of going to bed.

So, they have to learn that you are going to be there the next day for more fun and adventures.  And we have to teach them that everyone in the family is going to sleep for the night.

The Nighttime Can be Scary

Also, don’t forget that there are genuine concerns that toddlers have about nighttime.

Some kids are afraid of the dark, strange noises, or scary shadows.

Other kids are worried about being alone. 

Some kids have nightmares and are concerned about what they might see in their sleep.

Toddler in bed covering her eyes

Toddlers are starting to notice the world and their surroundings, leading to new awareness and a variety of feelings. 

Our toddlers don’t always have a way to communicate all these feelings to us.  So, it comes out as all the typical stalling one-liners.

So, here’s what we do to help them through this process:

Have a Bedtime Routine

Most times, our kids just don’t want to go to bed because it’s more fun to hang out with everyone.  It’s important to set up a bedtime routine.  And, stick with it!

The bedtime routine should be fun, relaxing, and the same each night. 

Having a proper bedtime routine clues the body and brain into slowing down and getting ready for bed.  If we stay with this routine our kids know we’re serious that it’s bedtime and their bodies will understand it too!

Make your bedtime realistic for your family.  Bedtime doesn’t always have to be with the same adult; however, all adults should be on the same page and provide the same general routine.

Toddler and mom brushing teeth for bedtime

Example Toddler Bedtime Routine:

Remember, little kids, need lots of sleep.  Early bedtime is appropriate, and the bedtime routine can take a while, so start early!  Seriously, 6:30 pm to start this schedule is not unreasonable.

Sample Bedtime Schedule:

Make sure all toys are put away for the night (Kids can help with this chore, read here to find out how)

Make sure they have a full water bottle on the nightstand

Say Good Night to other family members

Brush Teeth

Go potty

Bath  – Bath time can be fun and playful.  The last chance at being silly and excitable for the day!

Get into pajamas

Storytime As your kids get old enough, let them choose their stories- you decide how many.  We have two kids, so they each choose one story.  Do storytime in a calm, quiet location (bedroom)

Songs/Relaxation Sing songs, do “magic breathing” which is deep breathing, or sometimes use the app for some kids’ music or meditation.

Try on the potty one last time

Tuck into bed.  At this time, it’s good to double-check that they have everything they need.  Night lights on if needed.  Sound machines on if needed.  This goodnight kiss and “love you, see you in the morning” tells them it is bedtime now.

Adult reading to toddler at bedtime

Practice your bedtime routine every night.  It will help!

Notice that this bedtime routine also shows the kids that you are checking everything, you already filled their water, checked the lights, etc.  If we have just checked everything, then he has fewer excuses to come up with to delay bedtime.

What to do When Your Toddler Calls for you or Pops out of Bed at Bedtime

I don’t know any toddlers that don’t have a bedtime stalling phase.  How they do it can vary. 

Toddler out of bed at a window

And, kids will continue trying different things if they think it will work.

Ok, here it is!  The best trick to getting your kids to learn that their bedtime delays are not going to work:

Be kind and consistently firm that it’s bedtime.

What does that mean?  Ok, but how? 

See below for the how-to for specific situations.

My child calls for me because he needs “something” at bedtime

If your child calls to you that they need something, go in once.  Make sure they are ok.  Our kids need to know we are there, and we are keeping them safe.

toddler yelling from bed instead of sleeping

Once you KNOW that he doesn’t need anything AND your little one is comforted: say kindly “you have everything you need, it’s bedtime, goodnight”  (don’t argue or get in a yelling match).

Then leave the room.

When you leave if he calls for you again, don’t go back and have the same conversation.  Wait at least 5 or 10 minutes.

Either your kiddo will fall asleep, keep calling, or they will come out of the room (see below if this happens).

If after 10 minutes you can still hear talking or crying.  It is an important moment to really trust your parental instincts. 

If your child is really scared or worried, go back and reassure them that you are still there keeping them safe, a quick good night, let them calm a bit, and leave again.

However, if you know that your child is having a tantrum because she is not getting what she wants (to stay up).  Don’t go back in

The more we return to the room, the more our kids learn to continue having a tantrum or trying these tactics longer.

My Toddler keeps coming out of the room at bedtime

Some kids don’t stay in bed.  They will jump right out of bed and come out of their room.

Little girl in pajamas staring

The approach is similar to the above.  If your toddler stalls bedtime by coming out of the room it’s best to calmly say “It’s bedtime” and guide them back to bed.  Don’t continue a conversation or get frustrated.

Really, just carry or lead them back without talking.  Be neutral (not happy or angry!).

You may have to repeat this a lot.  Do it as many times as she chooses to come out of the room.  But remain quiet, just guide her back to bed.

I know this seems crazy- but the key is persistence.  If you act the same each night (which hopefully won’t be too many nights) she will learn that you are serious.  Bedtime is actually bedtime.

How to Manage Extreme Bedtime Tantrums and Clingy Bedtime Stalling

If your toddler is hanging on to you and having a major tantrum so you just cannot physically leave the room then consider trying the approach of a gradual exit over several days.

Bedtime stalling tantrum

Try the following strategy:

After doing the calming bedtime routine, tuck her into bed.  Also, tell your toddler that you will remain in the room for a relaxing time while she goes to sleep.  

You also need to tell her that she needs to stay in bed and Mommy can’t play or talk right now.

You should sit in a chair or on the floor, while your toddler is in bed.  Your job is to be present, but no talking or engaging, or cuddling with your toddler.

If she gets out of bed, just gently place her back in bed, without saying anything else.

Gradually you will be able to sit closer to the door and after several nights you will be able to leave the room after tucking her in.

This method could also be used for children that are really scared.

The key is to be calm and not play or interact.  Which can be soooooo hard. 

Be strong knowing that you are teaching your toddler how to have good sleep habits.

Make Bedtime Rules to Decrease Toddler Bedtime Stalling

For many kids knowing what is expected and having a routine will go a long way to producing good behavior.

You can make bedtime rules for your child to follow. 

Bedtime rules can include things like:

Stay in bed (only come out to go potty)

It’s ok to look at books or to cuddle with sleeping toys- but no screen-time in bed.

In the morning I can get up when my clock is “green.” (I love this clock, it changes color to let your toddler know when it is ok to get up in the morning.)

The Favorite Stalling Tactic of a Potty-Training Toddler- The Potty!

This topic gets its own section, cause it’s a common bedtime battle!

When we are potty training our little ones, we are always encouraging them to try on the potty.  And, they learn really quickly that if they say “I need to go potty!” we jump at the chance to get them to the toilet. 

Let’s be real, we are always so happy and cheering for them when they successfully use the toilet.  They love our praise.

Our kids are super smart, and so they start saying “I need to go potty” right as we are saying goodnight.  It’s a way of getting all that good attention and of course stalling bedtime.

toddler sitting on potty

What do you do- let them out of bed?

Since you know they just went potty a few minutes ago your toddler probably doesn’t really need to go.

However, during potty training, I never refuse a toddler the chance to try on the toilet when they ask. 

What if they really do need to go?  Also, we’ve spent so much time getting them to sit on the scary potty….. why would we discourage this?

It’s best to go calmly into the room and say, “Ok, let’s go try on the potty.”  But don’t say much else, keep lights dim, and let them go to the potty. 

If she goes, then reward that behavior calmly.  Then right back to bed and a quick goodnight.

What if she’s just playing on the potty?

If she sits on the potty and tries to have a long chit chat, it’s best to just repeat- “it’s bedtime, not playtime, let’s finish on the toilet.” 

Then after a few minutes, it’s time to go back to bed.  “Good job trying on the potty, but nothing’s coming. Let’s get back in bed.”

If your child gets in bed and immediately says they have to go potty again, that’s when I say, “you already tried on the potty, it’s bedtime now.  Good night.” 

Don’t linger, once you’ve said goodnight, go ahead out of the room.

I promise if you make that nighttime trip to the potty kinda boring, they will stop using this tactic. 

Be consistent.  Be calm. This will pass.

Ready to get Some Sleep

Ok, you are ready to stop the toddler bedtime stalling and bedtime battles. 

They are not going to stop after overnight, especially if this has been going on for a while.  But don’t give up.

sleeping toddler with toy

Consistency, a calm voice, and a little tough love will allow your little one to have a good bedtime.  Then she will be more rested and ready for fun the next day.

Remember, be kind but firm on the bedtime rules.

What are your struggles with bedtime?  Let me know in the comments below.

Sleeping girl with text surrounding

Techniques to Help our Little Ones Get to Bed and Stay in Bed

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