Eliminating Preschooler Bedtime Battles

“I have to go potty,” or “I am hungry,” or “I want to play with my trains,” or my favorite, “I want to snuggle with you in your bed Mommy.” Sound familiar? Toddler and preschoolers somehow learn this amazing skill of stalling at bedtime and it can be frustrating night after night for parents. When you hear those little feet traveling down the hallway for the 5th time of the night, it’s time to think about examining your bedtime routine and tactics to eliminate these battles.

Pre-Bedtime Tips

About a 1/2 hour to hour before bedtime, put away the electronic devices and turn off the T.V. You can even draw the shades and/or dim the lights to start signaling to your child that it’s time to wind down for the day. That way, when bedtime approaches and you want to begin the routine, they are already mentally prepped it’s coming. Turning off electronic devices is especially important as studies have shown that the light from these devices can interrupt a child’s (and adults) circadian rhythm and cause them to become more wakeful.

Consistent Bedtime Routine

Consistency creates security for young children, and the chance of them cooperating when they can anticipate the next step is much higher than if there is no established routine. At our house, if I miss a step in the routine, I sure hear about it from my 3 year old! But what’s also nice about having this routine established is that you, your spouse, babysitter, grandparents, or others that are caring for your child can execute the routine and gain cooperation from your child.

I can’t tell you how many days I am just exhausted by my child’s bedtime as well, ready for bed myself – and I’ve come to appreciate checking off the steps. Having this routine established will also allow you to dodge the occasional stalling tactic that is inevitable.

Some ideas to incorporate into your routine include:

  • Bath (if your child is overly stimulated by the bath, i.e. – hates getting hair washed or it makes them too excited from all the playing – then skip this as a bedtime step)
  • Brush teeth
  • PJ’s
  • Potty
  • Books
  • Snuggles/Songs
  • One last potty break/sip of water
  • Tucked in bed w/lights out

One More Sip…

Hunger or thirst complaints can be a tough one for parents. We feel guilty if they start complaining they are hungry, or thirsty – especially if they are in a picky eating phase and didn’t get much at dinner. To avoid this, you can provide a healthy bedtime snack and small Dixie cup glass of water. Remind them this is the last snack/water break of the night and move on to the rest of the routine.

Sleep Manners Chart

If you child responds positively to charts and stickers, you may want to consider developing a sleep manner chart that they can help assemble. Think of sleep manners that you would like to work on and frame them positively. Examples are, “stay in bed all night long”, or “cooperate at bedtime.” Having an actual, visual chart may also help in those early weeks when you are developing these positive bedtime habits. This chart is a reinforcement of the behaviors and expectations that you have for your child at bedtime and along with positive verbal reinforcement, it will go a long way to driving that behavior change.

Most Importantly, End on a Positive Note

A typical bedtime routine will last around 30 minutes and not feel rushed or hurried. Create connections and special moments with your child throughout, so they receive that positive interaction they crave from us as parents. It could be your special song, talking about the postivie parts of your day, having some snuggle time, or reading a book. Whatever that looks like for your family, these comfortaing moments will help your child drift off to sleep independently.

Still struggling with bedtime and nighttime wakings? Email or give me a call today (651-734-3946) and we can chat about your family’s sleep goals and help you decide if sleep coaching is a good fit.

About Elizabeth Sarles

Elizabeth Sarles is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach and the owner of Nite & Day. She lives in Edina, Minnesota with her husband Lien, two little guys – Lien and Harrison, and her first baby (and bed-hog), Eddie the Yorkie.

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