Toddlers are fascinating creatures, aren’t they? Watching them develop into thinking, creative little people is such a fascinating time, and one that parents often wish would last a little longer.
Of course, they usually wish that after baby has grown out of the toddler stage, because along with that creativity and new found intelligence, we usually see a lot of boundary-testing, which can be a frustrating experience.
When I have my initial consultations with the parents of a toddler, there’s usually some kind of amusing story surrounding bedtime. They’ll tell me, sometimes a little sheepishly, about how their little one gets three or four stories a night, sometimes five, and then they usually ask for a glass of milk that they’ll only drink a few sips of, then they want to say goodnight in a very specific, drawn-out way, and the parents will end up looking at each other wondering how on earth they got to this point.
And it always happens the same way... a little bit at a time.
Toddlers love to test boundaries, and they know that the one thing you want from them at bedtime is for them to go to sleep, so they’ll use that to their advantage. I know it sounds a little diabolical, but it’s their way of seeing where your boundaries lie and how much authority they actually have.
So one night they ask for a glass of milk, and the parents think, “What’s the harm?” The next night, they ask for a glass of milk and an extra story. A week later, they want a glass of milk, an extra story, and three hugs and two goodnight kisses. Little by little, these crazy bedtime routines get established, all according to what the toddler wants.
So there’s a simple, two step solution to this issue.
1. Establish a short bedtime routine.
2. Never deviate from it.
That’s it. It’s that simple. I won’t kid you, sticking to the rules can be a challenge, because they’re going to ask, test and complain, but if you stick to your guns, they’ll understand sooner rather than later that the bedtime routine is not up for debate.
This benefits both of you, in spite of the fact that your little one might not agree. Toddlers take a great amount of comfort in knowing that you, the parent, are firmly in charge and are confident in your decisions. It gives them a sense of security. If you start allowing them to make the decisions, they actually start to feel like they’re in charge, and that feeling that Mom knows what she’s doing starts to fade.
Additionally, a predictable, repetitive bedtime routine is greatly conducive to a good night’s sleep. It signals the brain to start secreting melatonin and signals the body to start relaxing muscles in preparation for a restful, relaxing snooze.
And, finally, you’ll never have to explain to your friends how you have to make your little guy pancakes at ten at night in order for him to go to bed.