You’ve heard all the standard bedtime behavior strategies: keep walking your child back into bed or let him cry it out. When your child was in a crib, these strategies might have worked, but for your kiddo in a toddler bed, they are useless.
You dread bedtime, not only because the process takes more than 75 minutes, but also because once you say “goodnight” and walk out the door, you know it is not the last time you are going to see your small one. In less than five minutes, your child will be in the doorway of your kitchen where you are frantically trying to have dinner while catching up on work e-mails that piled up while you were in the middle of an insanely long bedtime routine.
There’s a way out of this mess.
The first step to change any behavior is to handle the most extreme parts first. You want to immediately reduce the yelling, screaming, crying, and fighting. The best way to get rid of these problem behaviors is to preemptively deal with what causes your child to lose control. This could be demanding a glass of water, an extra story, an extra bathroom trip, or an extra five minutes with you. Make sure you give him all of these, preferably before he asks.
The bedtime routine will still take a long time at this point — but that’s okay. The trick is to make all bedtime tasks streamlined and predictable.
Now that the small being knows what to expect, you can start shortening the routine by removing one element at a time. You could, for example, remove the extra book and only read what you say you are going to read. It is important that you only take out one element at a time. If you do too many at once, it won’t work.
If you find yourself trapped in the bedroom, waiting for your small one to fall asleep, it is now time to change the routine so you can get out fast. Again, you want to take small steps. Let’s say that your small being asks you to lie down next to him while he falls asleep. Your first step would be lying down but not touching his body, or sitting up in his bed. Once you can do that for five or six days in a row without any pushback from your small being, then start sitting on the floor right next to the bed as he falls asleep. Then you might want to move to a chair. Each move gets you closer and eventually outside the door.
Creating an ideal bedtime routine is a slow process that will take time, but once it is in place, you will have a short and efficient bedtime ritual for the entirety of that child’s time with you. The extra time up front is minimal compared to that long-term reward!
If you’re ready for more proven behavior tips and strategies for a better bedtime, check out the Better Bedtime program here: www.behaviorandbeyond.net/bedtime-package.
Dr. Marcie is a behavior specialist based in Brooklyn. She has worked with thousands of families for more than 20 years and has condensed her observations into her private practice and online programs. Her book “Love Your Classroom Again” was a bestseller. You may have seen her as a guest expert on WCBS and Fox.
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