Delay Tactics At Bedtime

With toddlerhood, comes a demand from your little one to have some control over each situation. Often those who are already have positive sleep habits will continue these throughout toddlerhood, however, it is also very normal to see some ups and downs in the quality of your little ones sleeps and settling.

Often these “downs” are due to developmental leaps and teething, however, can also be a reflection of your little one needing an adjustment to their routine.

One common problem that a lot of parents face is their little one’s delay tactics around bedtime. Often this is just a phase, which your little one will progress through with persistence and consistency, however, there can be different contributing factors encouraging this and some methods we can put in place to help reduce the use of these tactics.

Daytime Sleeps

If your little one has begun to take 30 minutes + to settle to sleep, is constantly getting in and out of bed once tucked in or is having trouble winding down, the first step is to reassess their daytime and pre-bed routine.

From around the age of 2.5-3 years of age, little ones will begin to transition away from their daytime naps and some may completely phase it out.

We generally suggest that from 14 months, little ones should be having one nap per day.

From 2.5-3 years of age, many will begin to gradually transition away from their nap per day. If your little one is “over-sleeping” during the day, this can then cause them to not be sleepy around bedtime. If you are finding this is the case, I would first suggest looking
at reducing the daytime nap for 7-10 days and assess their response at bedtime.

If after this period they are still fussy around bedtime, you may need to look at transitioning away from the daytime nap completely or offering it every second day.

If you are having ongoing trouble with your little one’s sleep, then I would suggest looking at purchasing Program 3 of the online sleep programs.

This program comes with unlimited online support for the full duration of your little one's sleep, so we are able to support you throughout the journey. 

Pre-Bed Routine

A toddler’s mind is in a state of constant growth and development and sometimes this can cause them to go into “over-drive”.

This can mean that while their body is ready to sleep, their little minds are needing some convincing. It is really beneficial to implement a consistent bedtime routine for your toddler.

Not only do these associations help signal to their little minds that it is bedtime, they also help to provide a solid foundation for what is to be expected before bed and help to avoid your little one using delay tactics.

I would also encourage parents to let their little ones know how long until bedtime. It is important to remember that saying “bedtime is in 10 minutes” may not mean a whole world to a toddler, and may create some shock or upset when you finally begin to direct them to bed.

Having a more visual or age appropriate count-down may be better, however also following a consistent pre-bed routine can provide this.

This may look like:

Quiet Playtime


Bath or Shower

Brushing teeth

Saying Goodnight to Mum/Dad/ Toys/Moon/Dog/Fish

Into Bedroom

1-2 Books

Final toilet check

Goodnight kiss + Cuddle

Lights out + door shut

I would also try and make the 30-45 minute lead up to bed uneventful and quiet (where possible with toddlers).

Allow yourself lots of time to move your toddler through the above suggestions and avoid having any exciting toys or objects out. I would also encourage parents to remove any screen or T.V time from the pre-bed routine as this can make it challenging for your little one to wind-down.

If you do currently have T.V time, you may like to swap this for some calm, background music.

Remaining consistent in providing this foundation will help to not only wind-down your toddler’s mind in preparation for their sleep, but will also ensure you have marked off all possible “true” demands (such as needing to go to the toilet).

While it is important to be consistent, we also need to allow for some flexibility in this routine.

 I would suggest limiting the commands to “3” before saying no more. This may mean, allowing your little one to ask to go to the toilet, have one more book and say goodnight to mum/dad again.

After this, continue to redirect your little one back to bed with “goodnight” and tuck them back in.

If your little one has been consistent in instigating delay tactic’s, you may find that the first attempts of this redirection lead to some protesting.

This is normal and as you continue to remain persistent you will see this protest reduce. In the case that this happens, provide your little one with a cuddle, until they have calmed down, before placing them back into bed, tucking in and saying goodnight again. Where and when possible, I would try to avoid “giving in” to your toddler's excessive demands and tantrums as we don’t want to reinforce the idea that tantrum= getting what they want, around bedtime.

The Escape Artist

If your little one is getting out of bed to come to look for you, this is where remaining super consistent and persistent with redirection will truly benefit.

While it can be really tempting to go and lay with your little one until the fall asleep or give into every demand they desire to hopefully encourage them to stay in bed, these can often further encourage your little to get out and come looking for you, so transitioning away from these habits is a great start.

I would implement a pre-bed routine as mentioned above and ensure you are letting your toddler know the sequence of events leading up to bedtime. For older toddlers, simply saying “first we will eat dinner, then brush our teeth and then jump into bed and read two books” may be enough, however you may also like to look at making a “pre-bed” chart, that your little one can see, so they have visual guidance and an understanding of the process.

Many parents will feel the need to leave the door open or lights on, especially if their toddler is known to get in and out of bed. I would actually encourage parents to close the door when leaving the room and transition away from any intense lighting.

Seeing the open door and having lights on in the room can make it harder for your little one to settle to sleep and can encourage them to come and look for you. You may like to gradually close the door further and further each night, over a 7 to 10 day period and look at turning night lights or hallway lights off in a similar process.

If your little one calls out while still in bed, I would allow them time to self-settle and avoid entering the sleep space unless necessary or if your little one becomes distressed.

If your toddler begins to get out of bed and knocks on the door, allow for 8-10 minutes of self-settling time before you enter the room to place them back into bed. If your little one is content, but just calling out, you may like to allow for some further self-settling time before entering the room.

If your little one opens the door and calls out, follow the similar steps above and allow them time to self-settle before going in to help.

Often these delay tactics and calling out are a means to test boundaries, so if your little one is content and safe and you know that you have checked the pre-bed routine, not drawing attention to this behavior can help to reduce them.

Once your little one leaves the room to come and find you, you may like to follow the below steps.

Step 1:

Walk your little one back to their room (or carry if needed). Say “Mum/Dad loves you and it is time for bed “. Place them back into bed, tuck in say goodnight again and then leave the room.

Step 2.

The second time your little one comes out, repeat the above steps BUT simply say “It is time for bed my love” return them back to the room, tuck in and close the door.

Step 3.

The third time our little one comes out, repeat the above steps but simply say “it’s time for bed”.

Often on the first night of this process, you may find your little one is getting up multiple times. Stay consistent and over the course of 3-5 days, you should see this dramatically reduce.

I worked with a family who’s little one got in and out of bed 23 times on the first night! But by night 5, no longer got out of bed and settled to sleep within 10 minutes.

Some parents may feel more comfortable placing a baby gate on the bedroom door, to avoid the risk of their little ones getting up and hurting themselves, especially if they are doing this overnight or if there are stairs nearby.

This can be a really challenging phase for parents, however persistent and consistency will play a huge role in discouraging these delay tactics.

Matt CampsComment