The scene is set, you have carried out the usual bedtime routine and all that is left is for your toddler to hop into bed and nod off to sleep...and then the delay tactics start. "I'm thirsty", "I need to go to the toilet", "I'm hungry" or some other reason they can think of that requires them to no longer be in bed or to keep you there in the room interacting with them!
This is a very common issue in a lot of households and is developmentally a very normal occurrence for your toddler. They are going to have times when they will try to test the boundaries and see what results they can get. Plus lets face it, for most toddlers, bed is boring and out of the room is fun! All completely normal behaviour but it can be overwhelmingly frustrating as parents!
If your toddler is using delay tactics, look to see what you can do to ensure that any reason they have to get out of bed has already been attended to. For example, a classic delay tactic is "I'm thirsty". Ensure your toddler has had something to drink prior to bed and you can even have a small amount of water in a water bottle that sits next to their bed allowing them to fulfil that need without having to get out of bed and without them needing you to do anything. If pangs of hunger are all of a sudden 'apparently' an issue, at dinner time remind them their will be no more food after dinner and stick with that. Unless your toddler never eats food at all, chances are they probably aren't hungry or, even if they are slightly hungry, they will be able to wait until the morning. Following this can also significantly improve how much they eat at dinner time.
A delay tactic that can instil fear in parents if we don't adhere to the request is when our toilet trained toddler states they need to go to the toilet! Nobody wants to deal with middle of the night bed changes due to an accident and so parents will often allow another trip to the toilet - understandably! The only issue with that is toddlers realise very quickly they have found the phrase that gets them back out of the bed! Having a toilet stop as the very last thing that occurs before hopping into bed can help with this or you can allow one more trip to the toilet but ensure very minimal interaction is given and no frustration is shown. If a toddler realises you are frustrated, in their eyes this makes it a successful delay tactic so it will continue to get used!
When your toddler tests out a delay tactic and it results in you as the parent meeting this 'reason', it only encourages your toddler to test out more delay tactics. This can then snowball into a nightly occurrence with more reasons being added to the list. It can be very tempting to just allow 'one' more thing to occur as this can mean the avoidance of a tantrum and a quicker time for your toddler to settle to sleep. However, quite often this will then lead to more reasons and more interaction to keep occurring every night which drags out how long it is before your toddler finally settles to sleep.
As with any thing you do with toddlers, limits and boundaries need to be put in place and followed so your toddler understands you mean what you say and their efforts and behaviour won't change that. This is not always easy and is definitely not always met with enthusiasm from your toddler but it will make the bedtime process much easier!
Silent Night Baby Sleep Consultant
Helping your family achieve sleep harmony
If you would like any assistance with your toddlers sleep, book in for a free chat here and we can discuss what is going on and what we can do to improve it.