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Challenge: Bedtime Secrets

Toddler Bedtime Routines- How to Stop Your Toddler From Delaying Bedtime

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"Will you hold me in the chair?"
"Can I have one more snuggle?"
"3 more kisses please."
"I have to go potty"
"I have to poop"
"Can we read one more book?"

Boy oh boy do toddlers know how to say just the right things to get us to doubt our instincts just enough to keep delaying bedtime. Right!? I know you've heard questions like the above over and over and over and over. Before you know it, it's after 8 or 9 pm before your toddler is actually laying down for their 7 o'clock bedtime.

At first it's sweet. Extra snuggles!? I'd love to! Hold you in the chair, why certainly (it's been ages since you let me hold you)!

And then there are the moments of doubt. My toddler just potty trained... maybe she does have to go potty... again. Maybe she thinks she has to poop...


Then you realize what's happening... you have a smart, very smart toddler on your hands. They know JUST what to say to get out of bed. They know just what to do to pull at your heart strings to get you to say yes.
My husband and I did sleep training with our daughter when she was 4 months old. It was brutally hard, yet also one of the most wonderful things we've done. Sleep training has nothing, however, compared to a toddler at bedtime!
I've always been very big on using routines. If I had to pick one, I'd pick routines over schedules. Routines are super important in the lives of our babies and toddlers.

Routine indicates to them what is about to happen- what is happening. They can anticipate and know what's about to be expected of them. Routines help prime situations, and help avoid power struggles.
The bedtime routine is one of the most important routines you'll build for you and your child (we started a bedtime routine from day 1 at home with our newborn). The routine has evolved over time and now looks slightly different for our toddler. And once you realize that your toddler is a master at manipulating those routines to their liking...there are ways to get back the bedtime routine you once had in place.
Never fear, Toddlerwise is here! That's right, the Toddlerwise book is in the Babywise series, and it has some fabulous suggestions on what to incorporate into your routine, and how to get back on track if you lose your direction (as we did recently). Before we get into the Toddlerwise suggestions, let me outline our bedtime routine and rules in case you're interested.

Our Bedtime Routine
  • Clock turns blue
  • Clean up time
  • Floss and brush teeth, and brush hair
  • Pick and read 2 books
  • Snuggle time
  • Go potty and get changed
  • Lights out, sound on, curtains closed
  • Kisses, hugs, and "boo"
Notice we DO NOT incorporate bath/shower time. We keep this separate from the bedtime routine in an effort to keep the routine short and simple, and to not have a reliance on bath to relax. We do not bathe her every day.

Our Bedtime Rules
  • When the clock turns blue, bedtime routine starts.
  • Once in bed- Sleep, read or talk quietly. And by quietly we mean "whisper".
  • Stay in bed until the clock turns yellow (in the morning).
  • If something's needed, call Mama or Daddy, nicely. Do not get out of bed.
  • We will not respond to crying or screaming other than reminders to ask nicely.
Other Tips/Tricks We've Incorporated
  • Only 3 stuffed animals allowed in bed.
  • Only 3 books allowed on bedside table.
  • We read books and do snuggles on Mama and Daddy's bed so there is a defining moment when bedtime starts (when we enter Caroline's room).
  • Potty is the last thing before entering Caroline's room.
  • Consequences for not listening or lying are immediate, as are rewards.
    • If she refuses to brush teeth, a story gets taken away.
    • If she listens very well when getting ready, she gets an extra book.
    • If she lies about having to go potty after lights are out, an item gets taken away from her bed (stuffed animal or book).
  • She's getting stickers for whispering and staying quiet after we leave the room (stickers are given the next morning).
We got off track recently. Off track meaning Caroline was taking full advantage of asking for "more, more, more". She was delaying bedtime, frustrating us, and things just weren't going as smoothly as we would have liked.

We were trusting her requests instead of our parental instincts,

and as a result she was taking advantage...more every day. So, we made a BIG change.
The big change that I made, I totally blamed on the baby in Mama's belly. I told Caroline that we needed to practice being extra quiet for when the baby arrives. We took storytime and moved it OUT of Caroline's room and into Mama and Daddy's room in our efforts to "stay quiet for the baby".
We also started doing snuggles in Mama and Daddy's bed. We didn't want to remove the snuggles, because we enjoy them, but when we were doing them in Caroline's bed, there was no end, no defining moment of when it was officially time to be done and stop asking for more.
These big changes made a big change in the outcome. Caroline is now back to going to sleep quietly and efficiently when we tell her to do so. There is no more delaying bedtime, as everything is very clearly defined and consequences are put into place immediately.
Now if only I'd consulted with the Toddlerwise book, I'd have been doing this "big change" from the start. Here are 9 ideas that the Toddlerwise book recommends for establishing a bedtime routine: (Toddlerwise, Ezzos, pg 55)

  1. Set a consistent bedtime

    We have all of our bedtimes listed for each specific age on the schedules page. At 2.5 years old, we have the ok to wake clock turn blue at 7 pm. This starts our bedtime routine above of clean up time. We let her finish what she was doing as long as it is a reasonable amount of time.
  2. Avoid TV, roughhousing, and wrestling so your child has an easier time winding down.

    I think a good rule of thumb is that the last 30 minutes leading up to bedtime should be low key if at all possible. That works well for us.
  3. Avoid conflict prior to bedtime. Do not ask if your child is ready to go to bed allowing them to say "no". Tell them it is time and assist them.

    We have never run into power struggles with it being time for bed, thanks to the ok to wake clock that we use. It is a clear indication of bedtime. Now, when it comes to brushing teeth, that can be a different story. We just enforce consequences immediately if she's refusing to do any part of the routine, and that often leads to privileges and/or items being taken away.
  4. Keep your child's bedtime consistent (hire babysitters if you'll be out late).

    I think it is so important to be home for bedtime. We prioritize sleep around here. Now that being said, we make sure to enjoy the moments as well, and the occasional deviation from schedule is not the end of the world- as long as it's the exception.
  5. Do not allow too many liquids after dinner for potty-trained children.

    Sips and tiny sips only after dinner. The very last thing we do in our routine is go potty. I'd caution to be careful with a newly potty trained or potty training toddler not to get frustrated if they ask to go potty. You want to reward for your child recognizing that they have to go and asking. This is a fine line, however, because they quickly learn that it gets them out of bed. Just be very in tune to your child, and if you feel like they are starting to take advantage, you are right... get firm and consistent with your expectations.
  6. Consider doing your storytime out on the couch or somewhere not in the child's bed. This way, when storytime is over, there is a place to go (bed). This will help avoid the delaying bedtime tactics of asking for more. "If you keep storytime in the bedroom, you never finish because the child has no place else to go" (page 56)

    This was our BIG CHANGE recently, and it has made a HUGE difference. Caroline was asking for snuggles, and more snuggles, and to be held, and one more kiss, and boo, and snug as a bug, and, and, and. It was getting out of control. So, we relocated to Mama and Daddy's bed for storytime and snuggles. That way, we got to keep our special snuggle time, but there is an end. Caroline now knows that going into her room is the real deal and it is bedtime, not time to ask for more.
  7. Allow your child to fall asleep on their own. Offer a stuffed animal or blanket and then leave the room.

    This one is huge. We did sleep training at 4 months old and will always be thankful that we did. Caroline has put herself to sleep ever since and does not rely on us to help her. This helps if and when she wakes in the middle of the night, in that she doesn't need our assistance to go back to sleep.
  8. Make a rule that the child is not to get out of bed unless there is an emergency. Be clear on what an emergency is.

    As soon as we transitioned Caroline to a twin bed, we put this rule into place. The ok to wake clock helped tremendously on giving her a visual as to when it would be ok to get out of bed. We've taught her to call for us and she's taken to it very well.

    Many people have asked what we do for using the potty. We just have her call, and we take her. We don't keep a small potty in the room. She wouldn't be able to pull her underwear down and wipe all on her own anyway (this was written when she was 2.5 years old and not yet doing this), so we just take her to the bathroom once she calls and help her out.
  9. If your bedtime routine gets rushed or happens late, consider playing soft music to help your child wind down.

    This is another change we've been considering making, and I believe the ok to wake clock we use has an easy way to do this right on the clock!

These are 9 fabulous things to keep in mind whether you are just starting to use routines, or needing to revamp your current routine. The Babywise series has so much information beyond just establishing a schedule with your baby and doing eat, wake, sleep cycles. In the Toddlerwise book alone, there's great information on things like mealtime guidelines, potty training, giving instructions, handling conflict, and more!


Katrina is a babywise mom of 3 (A 3 year old, one angel baby, and one on the way). She is a mom that uses schedules and routines, but also cloth diapers, makes her own baby food and baby wears! She is very passionate about the benefits of breastfeeding on a schedule, and a huge advocate of doing what’s right for YOUR family. Keep it real with her over at

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