Toddler Stalling At Bedtime? Avoid The #1 Mistake.

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 11/03/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Tips

Bedtime stalling is a common issue that many parents will face. It is frustrating and exhausting to deal with, but it’s important to understand that having a toddler stalling at bedtime is a very normal part of their development. 

Toddlers are still learning about boundaries and will try to test limits, and bedtime is an ideal time for them to flex those muscles.

Still, it’s not a habit we want to reinforce… So here’s exactly how to handle your toddler’s stalling tactics.

Toddler Stalling At Bedtime - Grumpy toddler wiping his eyes

Key Takeaways

  1. Set clear expectations and stick to them. Make sure your toddler knows that the bedtime routine signals the end of the day and that bedtime means bedtime. Reinforce that stalling will not be rewarded.
  2. Address the root causes. Figure out if separation anxiety, hunger, overtiredness or overstimulation are triggering the stalling and work on resolving the underlying issue.
  3. Stay patient and calm. Getting frustrated or giving in reinforces your toddler’s stalling behavior. Remain calm, use redirection, and offer reassurance.

What Are Some Effective Strategies For Dealing With A Toddler Who Stalls At Bedtime?

If your little one is constantly stalling at bedtime, it’s easy to feel frustrated, exhausted, and at a loss for what to do. 

Fortunately, I have refined several effective strategies over the last 40 years of working with children that you can use to help your toddler get to bed on time and sleep through the night…

Without a fuss.

How To Stop Your Toddler Stalling At Bedtime

1. Establish A Consistent Bedtime Routine

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about the bedtime routine!

When your toddler is stalling at bedtime, one of the most effective strategies for dealing with delaying tactics is to establish a consistent bedtime routine. 

This is because toddlers love routine and knowing what is coming up next.

A predictable routine can also help your child feel more secure and relaxed, making it far easier for them to fall asleep. 

Your bedtime routine will establish good sleep hyginene habits and should include, taking a bath, reading a story, and or listening to soft music. Be sure to start your routine at the same time each night and stick to it as closely as possible.

You must also include common stalling tactics within your bedtime routine to stop them being reasons why your toddler won’t go to sleep.

For example, if your toddler always complains “I’m thirsty!” before bed, include placing a small glass of water next to your toddler’s bed as part of your routine. 

In this instance, your child’s evening routine would look like this:

  1. Bathtime
  2. Get dressed in pajamas
  3. Brush teeth
  4. Put a glass of water next to the bed
  5. Choose a book to read together
  6. Say prayers
  7. Say goodnight
  8. Lights out

2. Try Using A Bedtime Routine Chart

A bedtime routine chart is an incredibly useful tool for toddlers to follow along with their bedtime routine. 

It can be a visual representation of the steps involved in the routine, such as taking a bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a book, praying, and turning out the lights. 

Click here to download my free printable bedtime routine chart.

By using a chart, toddlers can feel a sense of accomplishment as they check off each step, making the bedtime routine more enjoyable.

3. Set Clear Expectations

Another effective strategy for dealing with a toddler who stalls at bedtime is to set clear expectations. 

Let your child know what is expected of them each night before bed and what is coming up. 

For example, you can say, “After we brush our teeth, it’s time to get into bed, read a book, and go to sleep.”

Setting clear expectations can help your child understand what is expected of them and reduce bedtime stalling.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool for encouraging good behavior in toddlers. 

When your child follows the bedtime routine and goes to bed on time, be sure to praise them. You might say, “Thank you for getting ready for bed so nicely!”

Positive reinforcement can help your child feel proud of themselves and encourage them to continue following the bedtime routine.

5. Avoid Power Struggles

When dealing with the bedtime routine, it is important to avoid power struggles with your toddler. 

If your child is stalling bedtime, it can be quite naturally tempting to get into a battle of wills with them.

However, in my experience, this can make the situation worse and lead to more bedtime stalling. Not what you want!

Instead, try to stay calm and patient. 

If your child is refusing to go to bed, try redirecting their attention to a calming activity like reading a book or listening to music.

6. Address Overtiredness and Undertiredness

Dealing with an overtired toddler is often going to result in a disrupted bedtime routine.

This is because (contrary to popular belief) when your toddler is overtired, they are very likely to have trouble falling asleep, staying in bed, or staying asleep. 

To address overtiredness, make sure your child is getting enough age-appropriate sleep during the day and has a consistent bedtime routine. 

Avoid overstimulating activities before bedtime, such as screen time or rough play, and consider adjusting your child’s nap schedule. 

Alternatively, if your little one is not sleepy enough at bedtime… they will come up with all sorts of reasons why they cannot go to bed.

In either case, take a close look at their daytime sleep to ensure it is happening when it should and for the correct length of time.

7. Prevent Overstimulation

Overstimulation is one of the biggest causes of bedtime stalling.

To prevent overstimulation, avoid screen time before bedtime and limit stimulating activities such as dancing, running, or singing.

Instead, try quiet activities before bedtime such as doing jigsaw puzzles, taking a bath, and reading a book.  

Also, make sure your child’s sleeping environment is calm and quiet, and consider using blackout curtains or white noise to create a peaceful atmosphere.

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8. Implement Reward Systems

Finally, you can try implementing a reward system. 

Although this technique is not my go-to approach… for very stubborn toddlers, reward systems can be a great way to motivate them to follow their bedtime routine consistently. 

For example, you can create a sticker chart where your toddler receives a sticker for each successful night of following their bedtime routine. 

Once they reach a certain number of stickers, they can earn a reward, such as a small toy or a special activity. 

By implementing a reward system, toddlers can feel a sense of accomplishment and be motivated to continue following their bedtime routine consistently.

Always make sure the reward chart is in a clear space and at your toddler’s height. 

Now, feel free to try one, two, or all of the above strategies and see if your toddler will stop stalling bedtime. 

Remember, consistency, calm and patience are key when dealing with stalling tactics, and ultimately, your toddler needs to know that bedtime means bedtime.

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Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

The #1 Mistake You Must Avoid When Handling A Toddler Stalling At Bedtime

So what is the number 1 mistake parents make when their toddler is stalling bedtime?

They give in.

I cannot count how many times I have encountered parents letting their toddlers go for another drink, another book, another song… and another… and another… and another…

All in the hope that:

“This will be the last one”

Sadly, this tactic only ever backfires.

If a parent gives in and lets their toddler continue to stall, they will find themselves on a slippery slope to endless goodnights. 

This is because their toddler will know how much they can get away with.

In essence, their toddler has played them as the fool.

However, with the tactics I have outlined above, you can avoid this mistake completely.

As your toddler will not need to put off bedtime.

And you will know that they don’t really need another pee, another glass of water, or a snack…

Because you have included an extra toilet break, a cup of water, and a snack within the bedtime routine!

Toddler Stalling Bedtime - Toddler Drinking From Bottle

Common Toddler Stalling Tactics

Of course, how you handle a toddler stalling at bedtime will come down to WHY they’re delaying going to sleep.

So, here are some of the most common stalling tactics that toddlers use and how to handle them.

1. Fear of Missing Out

Toddlers are curious by nature, and they don’t want to miss out on anything exciting that might be happening while they’re asleep. 

This is a huge motivator when it comes to delaying going to bed. 

Your toddler might ask to stay up later or want to know what’s happening in other parts of the house. 

The key here is to make staying in bed a better option than getting up. 

Use audiobooks to keep your toddler occupied while they fall asleep and also assure them that you are doing something boring like washing up or laundry rather than watching TV.

In addition, try to ignore any interactions you have with your toddler once you have said goodnight. 

In other words, be as boring as possible!

2. Say Goodnight to Everything

Toddlers can be very attached to their toys and other possessions. They might want to say goodnight to every item in their room before they go to sleep. (My son did this)

And while this might seem like a harmless ritual, it can be time-consuming and frustrating for you. 

One solution is to set a limit on how many items they can say goodnight to. 

For example, you could tell them they can say goodnight to one toy, one book, and one stuffed animal. 

3. Request for A Drink of Water

As I mentioned earlier, toddlers often use the request for a drink of water as a way to delay bedtime. 

While it’s important for them to stay hydrated, it’s also important to establish boundaries. 

I find that staying one step ahead can often stop the delaying tactics. 

Offer a drink of water before they ask and fetch the water yourself. 

Or have a small cup of water next to the bed, ready to go.

By recognizing these common stalling tactics and having a plan in place to address them, you can help make bedtime a smoother and more peaceful experience for both you and your toddler.

NOTE: If you’re a visual learner, here is a fantastic video from Dr. Mona from PedsDocTalk which explains how to handle toddler bedtime stalling concisely and clearly.

Addressing Toddler Fears

A common reason for bedtime stalling in toddlers is that at this age they may start experiencing fears that can disrupt their bedtime routine and lead to stalling tactics. 

It’s important to address these fears with empathy and understanding to help your toddler feel safe and secure. 

Here are some common fears your toddler may have and how you can address them:

Fear of the Dark

It is very common for toddlers to be afraid of the dark, which can make it difficult for them to fall asleep. 

To help ease this fear, introduce a night light or ceiling projector in their room to help them settle. 

You can also try leaving the door slightly open to let in some light from the hallway. 

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Additionally, you can read books or tell stories about friendly characters who sleep in the dark or those who overcome their fear of the dark to help normalize the experience.

Two of my favorites are Orion and the Dark By Emma Yarlett and Franklin in the Dark by Paulette Bourgeois.

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Best Classic Book

Join Orion on an imaginative adventure through the world of the dark! In this beautifully illustrated children's book, author Emma Yarlett explores the concept of fear and how we can overcome it. Follow Orion as he learns to face his fears and discovers the magic and wonder that can be found in the dark. With engaging storytelling and stunning illustrations, "Orion and the Dark" is a must-read for children and parents alike.

I love Franklin stories and this book is no exception. In this story, poor little Franklin discovers he's afraid of the dark.

This is particularly distressing for Franklin as he happens to be a turtle, and the darkness he fears is, of course, inside his own shell. Bravely, with shell in tow, he sets forth to seek help and in the course of his travels discovers a bird who is afraid of heights, a polar bear who is afraid of the cold, and even a hydrophobic duck. In the end, Franklin discovers that everybody is afraid of something, even his own mother, and his response to what he has learned is guaranteed to draw a smile.

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Join Orion on an imaginative adventure through the world of the dark! In this beautifully illustrated children's book, author Emma Yarlett explores the concept of fear and how we can overcome it. Follow Orion as he learns to face his fears and discovers the magic and wonder that can be found in the dark. With engaging storytelling and stunning illustrations, "Orion and the Dark" is a must-read for children and parents alike.

Best Classic Book

I love Franklin stories and this book is no exception. In this story, poor little Franklin discovers he's afraid of the dark.

This is particularly distressing for Franklin as he happens to be a turtle, and the darkness he fears is, of course, inside his own shell. Bravely, with shell in tow, he sets forth to seek help and in the course of his travels discovers a bird who is afraid of heights, a polar bear who is afraid of the cold, and even a hydrophobic duck. In the end, Franklin discovers that everybody is afraid of something, even his own mother, and his response to what he has learned is guaranteed to draw a smile.

Fear of Monsters

Toddlers may also be afraid of monsters hiding in their closets or under their beds. 

Reassure your child that monsters are not real and cannot hurt them BUT never belittle their fear by saying it is rubbish or uncalled for.

A great way to help your little one deal with monsters in the dark is to create a monster spray (water in a spray bottle) to help them feel more in control and empowered. 

Make it a fun activity by letting your toddler decorate the bottle and choose a scent they like.

Lavender and camomile essential oils are very relaxing scents and work brilliantly in a monster spray.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is another common reason toddlers can make bedtime difficult. 

To help ease this fear, establish a consistent bedtime routine that includes cuddling, reading a book, and saying goodnight. 

You can also try leaving a comforting item, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, in your toddler’s bed

If your child is really struggling, consider using a baby monitor so they can hear your voice if they wake up during the night.

Also, try leaving your toddler for a short while and promise to return in a few minutes. 

Always return when you say you will.

Every time you leave, gradually extend the time you are away by 30-60 seconds until your toddler is falling asleep happily without you.

Dealing With Bedtime Power Struggles

Power struggles are a common issue with toddlers. 

If your toddler resists going to bed and tests your limits, it can easily lead to a battle of wills. 

It’s important to understand that these struggles are not uncommon and can be resolved through effective parenting strategies rather than head-on.

Toddler Stalling Bedtime - Toddler Doesn't Want To Wear Pyjamas and is resisting leaving mum

In summary, power struggles can be challenging, but they can be overcome through effective parenting strategies and sleep training methods.

The key is to stay calm, remain consistent, be focused, and address any underlying issues. 

With patience and perseverance, you can help your child develop healthy sleep habits and avoid future bedtime battles.

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When to Consult a Sleep Consultant About Stalling Tactics

If you have tried various techniques to manage your toddler’s bedtime stalling and none of them seem to work, it might be time to consider consulting a sleep consultant. 

A sleep consultant is a professional who specializes in helping families establish healthy sleep habits and routines for their children.

Sleep consultants provide personalized advice and support to help you and your child get the sleep you need. 

They can help you identify the underlying causes of your child’s bedtime stalling and develop a plan to address them. 

They can also guide you toward sleep training methods appropriate for your child’s age and temperament.

Here are some signs that it might be time to consult a sleep consultant:

  1. Your child consistently takes a long time to fall asleep at night, despite having a consistent bedtime routine
  2. Your child wakes frequently during the night and has difficulty settling back to sleep
  3. Your child consistently wakes up too early in the morning
  4. Your child is resistant to going to bed and engages in bedtime stalling behaviors despite all your efforts to redirect and calm them.
  5. Your child’s sleep disruptions are negatively affecting their behavior, mood, and overall health.

Working with a sleep consultant can help you and your child establish healthy sleep habits that will benefit the entire family. 

They can also provide you with the necessary tools and support you need to help your child get the sleep they need to be happy, healthy, and well-rested.

Toddler Stalling Bedtime - Toddler Girl Eventually Sleeping

Frequently Asked Questions When Your Toddler Is Stalling At Bedtime

Looking for more information about toddler bedtime stalling tactics? Here are the most frequently asked questions, answered just for you.

Q: How can I encourage my toddler to go to bed without stalling?

A: Encouraging your toddler to go to bed without stalling can be a challenge, but there are several things you can do to make the process easier. One effective strategy is to establish a consistent bedtime routine that your toddler can follow every night.

This routine should include calming activities such as a warm bath, reading a story, or singing a lullaby. Try to stay one step ahead by offering a glass of water and suggesting a visit to the bathroom before you settle them to sleep. You can also try setting clear expectations for bedtime and using positive reinforcement when your toddler follows through.

Q: What are the most common reasons why toddlers stall at bedtime?

A: Toddlers stall at bedtime for many reasons, but some of the most common include fear of missing out, separation anxiety, and a desire for attention. They may also be experiencing discomfort, hunger, or thirst. Identifying the root cause of your toddler’s stalling behavior can help you address the issue more effectively.

Q: How can I create a bedtime routine that minimizes stalling?

A: Creating a bedtime routine that minimizes stalling requires some planning and consistency. Start by choosing calming activities that your toddler enjoys, such as reading a story or listening to soft music. Make sure to establish a clear routine that your toddler can follow every night, and try to keep the timing consistent. You can also try using a visual schedule or chart to help your toddler understand what to expect.

Q: What are some qays to make bedtime more appealing for toddlers?

A: Making bedtime more appealing for toddlers can help reduce stalling behavior. One effective strategy is to create a cozy and comfortable sleep environment with soft blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. You can also try incorporating special bedtime activities, such as a nightly snuggle or a special song. Finally, consider offering your toddler a small reward for following the bedtime routine without stalling.

Q: How can I stay patient and calm when my toddler stalls at bedtime?

A: Staying patient and calm when your toddler stalls at bedtime can be challenging, but it is important for maintaining a positive and consistent routine. One strategy is to take deep breaths and practice mindfulness to help you stay centered and focused. You can also try using positive self-talk and reminding yourself that this is a normal stage in your toddler’s development. Finally, consider enlisting the help of a partner or friend to provide support and encouragement.

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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