A yawn here, an eye rub there; as the evening is winding down, your toddler shows all the right signs that they’re tired. So, after a few more minutes of playtime (and a few more yawns), you announce that it’s time for bed. Their response? A barrage of tears and lots of protesting.
We experienced this phenomenon first with our daughter (who’s now 6) and are in the thick of it now with our 2 and a half year old son. Despite having gone through the same predictable bedtime routine night after night (pajamas, brushing teeth, then quiet playtime), that moment when my husband or I finally announced that playtime was over and bedtime had arrived still seemed to come as a surprise.
When we first started having bedtime tears with our daughter around age 1, I realized that we knew she was tired and had done about all the playtime she could do, but she didn’t necessarily know that (or at least wasn't willing to admit it!)
Our solution to this problem was really simple and is now a strategy I use all the time in my home as well as recommend to the parents of children with autism I support: we started giving a verbal one-minute warning.
Giving a One-Minute Warning
As the yawns and eye rubs became more frequent, my husband and I would give each other a telling look and one of us would say “Okay, one more minute then bedtime.” We then waited about a minute (We never used a timer or even looked at a clock-we just estimated), then told our daughter it was time to clean up and get ready for bed.
This strategy worked so well at bedtime that we started using it to cue other transitions, such as leaving the house for daycare or errands, getting in the tub for bath time, getting back out of the tub after bath time; you get the idea. Basically, any time my kiddo protested moving from one activity or location to another, we started giving a one-minute warning.
The key is to give the warning, wait about a minute, then follow through with whatever you told your kiddo was going to happen when one minute ended.
When our son started protesting bedtime, we pulled out this tested strategy. And it worked great, until about a month ago.
Adding Bells and Whistles to the One-Minute Warning
My little guy has a flair for the dramatic. Despite the fact that were going through the same bedtime routine night after night and gave him that tried and true one-minute warning, he still sobbed and protested when my husband or I announced that a minute was over and it was time for bed.
We tried using a timer during the last 10 or 15 minutes of playtime and giving him a heads up that time was almost out, but the tears still came when time ran out.
One evening, the playtime timer beeped and, on a whim, I asked my little guy “Do you need one more minute?” He stopped crying, said “yes,” and happily continued playing.
I reset the timer for a minute, thinking all I’d manage to do was delay the tears for an extra minute. But surprisingly, the timer beeped, I announced “okay, we had one more minute, now it’s time to clean up.” And he cleaned up without a word!
Something about that last minute gives him the time he needs to transition to bedtime. So when we announce or the timer beeps indicating that playtime is over, he will now typically say (without crying) “I need one more minute.”
We oblige-and we give only one extra minute-and bedtime goes a whole lot more smoothly. He doesn’t ask for an extra minute every night, but we’re happy to give him 60 extra seconds if it means a peaceful transition to bedtime.