Help With Toddler Bedtime: Advice From a Philly Expert

A few simple ways to make bedtime at your house less stressful and more restful Read more

brandi davis bedtime

From birth until well what seems like, I don’t know, college (?) dealing with various sleep issues seems like to take up an inordinately large amount of total parenting energy. It can really be a massive relief when you find someone with some non-judgy practical advice — which is what we have here, in the form of parenting coach Brandi Davis. We asked Brandi to weigh in on one common issue — the toddler bedtime struggle. Below, her take. (Oh! We should also mention that Brandi has an upcoming seminar on a totally separate — but equally helpful — topic: You can sign up here for “Real Life Resolutions” on February 12. It’s at Lume, it’s BYO, and it’s going to tackle six real-life resolutions that will change your year, your family, even your life.) 

Any tips for nipping the procrastination tricks in the bud? In our house, after bath, after story time, after the whole ritual, then it’s “I need water. I need to use the bathroom. I need a hug. I really need to use the bathroom again.” And so on. Any ideas for how to keep bedtime from turning into a 56-minute process?
Ahhh, bedtime. The vision: A beautiful time of connection and cuddles. The reality: By the end of it all you’re a ball of fiery, volcanic frustration. How do you keep it flowing and going without fighting and constant reminders? Put up a bedtime schedule. Use pictures that show the routine: This helps toddlers and young kids see what’s coming up next. Bath, teeth brushing, pjs, storytime, lights out. Also be clear about those last calls: “This is the last call for food, drinks (or you can leave a sippy cup with a little bit of water by the bed), last call for hugs (yup, I did just say that), last call for potty, last call for anything that needs to be last called.

I know: It just seems so awful to deny your children one last kiss or hug, but they are STALLING, grabbing at every last moment with you, every last morsel of attention and awake time. I am sure that you have hugged them a million times in the day, and now it is time for bed so that everyone can be rested and happy the next day. It will be tough, but be clear about the routine and stick with it. There may be tears at first but then, in just a day or two, your routine will be meaningful, focused and yes, even dare I say, FUN.

Got any tips/tricks for keeping kids in a big-boy (big-girl) bed while they’re adjusting to life outside a crib?
FREEDOM!! At first there will be some escapes, and you’ll need to walk your child back to her room. Keep it short and sweet. Don’t get back into the bed and do the whole routine over again. That will just incentivize the night walking. I mean, they get more books and long snuggles attention, fun — so why not keep hopping out of bed? Put them back in bed, kiss them, say that you love them, walk out. In the morning when they have stayed in bed, go crazy. Give high fives. Tell him what a great job he did. Make it big. Real, but big. Be clear about WHEN she can come out. You can get a wake-up clock (the light goes on when the child can get up), put stickers on a clock with hands, write the numbers out for a digital clock — whatever works, just make it clear to your child when he can make the big escape.

If she really can’t sleep, she can look at books in bed. No, she’s not sleeping, but she isn’t bugging you, either, while you try to catch up on work or the latest episode of your favorite show. If the kid is in bed, he will fall asleep at some point. Try a book on tape (ugh, just dated myself) on iTunes. Something soothing and calm. It can keep her attention enough to stay in bed, while lulling her to sleep.

Many parents at one point or another enter into a phase where they have nightly fights over bedtime. Any thoughts on ending those bedtime battles?
The best way to not have fights is to not have fights. Okay, it’s not THAT easy, but it is doable. Express your expectations and stick to your routine. Do not add a book or four hugs or sleep in his room that one time (well, minus when he’s sick, or there’s a scary thunderstorm). Stick to your rules and routine. If your child starts to negotiate and fight, end it. “I was clear it is bedtime. No snacks, no water (or your water is by your bed), no more hugs. I love you, good night.”

As for moving along the routine, let your kids know when lights-out time is. If you get to lights-out time and they’re still getting into bed or into PJs, then you’ll run out of time for that last thing. The books, the songs, the loooonnnggg snuggles. It sounds tough but one or two nights of missing out will move those kiddos along. As your child is going through the routine, you can ask her, “What’s your job?” whenever she gets stuck or drifts off into daydream land. Be sure, though, that you have given your kids enough time to get through everything. Kids take a while to do stuff and some kids take FOREVER. If things are taking too long, you can start a little earlier. It may cut into some fun time, but it will also cut out some stress. Bedtime can be stressful. Everyone is tired, and you are ready for some downtime. Be clear about the routine, leave at lights-out time, and don’t get pulled into fights.

PS. Can’t wait to see you at the seminar!