Getting Your Toddler To Bed Without A Fight

Anyone who thinks the art of conversation is dead ought to tell a child to go to bed.” ~Robert Gallagher

I need your help. I’ve suspected for some time that my 2½ year old girl is smarter than I. Now I’m quite certain of it. As many of you know, my wonderful wife suggested years ago I should read to and put my little girl to bed each night. The idea (and it’s a really good one that I strongly recommend to any other dads reading this) is by putting her to bed every night I’d have a little bit of extra quality time with her. It’s been great, but…

My baby girl in her crib

Bedtime was so much easier back then!

Here’s where I need your help:  in the past couple of months after finishing the last story book for the night she’s taken to asking (and eventually pleading in a way that to the neighbors must sound as though I’m pulling out her fingernails one by one) that I read her just “one… more… book… daddy… puhleez!” Which, if I give in and read another, is immediately followed by… you guessed it, more pleas for just one more book.

Last night when I finally got her into her crib she called me back and said, “Something scared me!” Okay, remember I told you she’s smarter than me. It did not occur to me immediately that she knew daddy couldn’t resist picking up his little 2½ year old girl if she was scared. After picking her up the thought popped into my head I was being played, and I asked, “Did you just say you were scared so I’d pick you up?”  “Yes,” came the surprisingly honest response.

Clearly I’m in need of expert guidance from someone whose navigated these treacherous waters before. I assume at least one key is I must stick to whatever I say, e.g. if I say “This is the last story”, then it must be the last story? What other suggestions do you have to help me smooth the transition from story-time to bed-time? Soon she’ll be in a toddler bed, and that scares me even more. At least now she can’t (or at least doesn’t) get out of bed.

Am I the only one who has had this problem? H-E-L-P!

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  1. HAHAHA! Adelyn does that too!!!! Her newest thing is “i gotta pee, i gotta pee” LOL.

    we deal with that story time issue every night… so i automatically know that when i read the last book, i hear “won moe time mommy, puhweese” and i say “ok, only one more time”.

    the first few times we played this game.. she said it again… but i followed thru with only re reading that last one once… she got the point after two nights. =)

    they are at the age where they are constantly testing your limits… slip up once.. and you’re in for it 😉

    1. I know… and I have slipped up at first not realizing the precedent I was setting. Now I’m trying to regain lost ground. Oh, and I got the “i gotta pee, i gotta pee” one, too, Kristanlynn.

  2. Oh my! She sure has you wrapped around her finger! Haha. Yes, the last story must be the last story. With my son, once you’re in bed, you cannot get out. Period. I realize that it’s different for every parent, but this is the way I started out. Haha. Everyone has to make their own plan for bedtime though! I’m just kinda strict…

    1. LOL… she definitely has me wrapped around her finger. You’re right, Kadie. I’m a bit of a softie when it comes to my little girl, but I’m trying to learn. I understand it will be better for her if I do? Thanks so much for your input. I need all the help I can get with my wee one. 🙂

  3. Oh yes, I have a 2 1/2 year old girl too. I know exactly what you’re talking about. My wife and I both go in the room with her at bedtime and we talk a little, read a little and sometimes tell stories or sing songs. (my wife sings…not me)

    After that, it’s our rule that she stays in bed and we’ve been blessed so far as to not get a bunch of those, “but daddy!)

    What we are struggling with right now is that she wakes up soooo early and it’s hard to have her stay in her bed or room. It could be 5:30 in the morning and she’s coming in to mommy and daddy’s bedroom.

    We’ll make it through though.

    1. Hey, Jeff. Thanks for your retweet earlier. I’m going to be stopping by your blog and likely seeking your help with an unrelated issue… getting rid of this “sympathetic baby bump”. Per your comment about your girl waking up early (knocking on laminated fake-wood desk top) we don’t have that problem, at least yet. But as I mentioned our girl is still in her crib. No doubt that will change soon, and it scares me more than a little. If you work out your issue, please, please let me and my readers know how?

  4. Yep. Last one is last. We do 1 book, 2 songs of his choosing & have for quite some time (mine is 3.5). Big fuss about needing another book may result in losing a song (or two). It’s always something. Lately it’s been ‘stay for 2 more minutes.’ Its tough but just try to stay consistent, reassuring but firm, be positive & let her know that you are confident she can make good choices (stay calm, stay in bed, whatever).

    1. Its tough but just try to stay consistent, reassuring but firm, be positive & let her know that you are confident she can make good choices.

      Sounds like great advice, Nichelle. Thank you for your help! I hadn’t thought of the “consequences” approach, e.g. taking away a song if the toddler complains too much about not getting another book. I didn’t mention it, but I sing her songs after putting her in the crib, so that may be one I try tonight. Thanks again.

  5. We are all in the same boat, aren’t we. But the one and only thing that is working with our 2 3/4 yo boy is routine.
    I never did bedtime story. We are watching the 8pm news on TV, brush teeth, go pee pee, I hold him in my arms (still standing in front of the TV, because otherwise it’s boring for me), move my upper body slowly from one side to the other, until he tells me that he wants to go to bed, about 1-5 min. later. Maybe he’s getting seasick, I don’t know ;-). I put him in his bed, give him a kiss and leave. And I leave the door open, so he can hear what’s going on in the house. When think he’s asleep I go back and close it.
    This works perfectly if: he gets up no later than 7am and naps from 1pm-3pm. So around 9pm he is tired and falls asleep within 5min. lying in his bed.
    However this works only with me, not with my Hubs. And because of that it’s my job and he’s doing the dishes.
    Hope you can figure out something that’s working for your family. Good luck.

  6. I absolutely suck in this department. With both my kids when they were young.

    Mikeal is 8, he was in Kindergarten before we set down solid boundaries and ‘quit babying’ him.

    Mikaila is 3.5 and I figure around the time she’s in school full time she’ll be bound to the fast rules as well.

    But I can say that she has started sleeping in her own bed on a more regular basis now for the last several months, whereas Mikeal wasn’t sleeping in his own bed until he was past 4 years old.

  7. lol thats hilarious! she does sound like she’s super smart. I think u should say – what r u scared of? and if she makes something up – like monsters or something else, u should pretend to fight off the monster and that way, you’ll get her to laugh and feel bad that she made u fight a monster, and want to go to sleep!

    ps my dad used to read to us b4 bed, great tradition!!! loved it and still remember it today:)

  8. Love to hear that there are more fathers out there putting there kids to bed each night. My husband puts our son to bed every night to give them extra time together. I stay home with my son while my husband works. So, they enjoy their extra alone time together before bed.

    If you figure out anything, please let me know. My son is starting to play that game too! He just turned 21 months today.

  9. My youngest is 13 now and the twins are 18, so it’s been awhile. All I can say is every kid is different. The twins were horrible getting to stay in bed. After all, it’s not like you can ground a 2 year old. But with Quinten, we have never had any trouble. He has always gone right to bed with no problem and sleeps through the night. The main thing is to be consistant. She may cry and scream until she knows you mean business, but it won’t hurt her a bit. You can do this, Dad!
    By the way, she’s adorable!

  10. Boy, that can be a tough one.

    I learned after my first daughter that I had to have limits. We have a 2 book limit and I have veto power over books I know are going to take too long. I also had a 5 things rule for awhile because she just kept asking for things.

    The 5 seemed to do it and it made her feel like she was getting some power at bedtime. She would ask for :
    1. stories
    2. song
    3. drink of water
    4. 1 Question (random weird question or she would ask what was for breakfast in the morning)
    5. A snuggle

    I also tried a few other things. I gave her a flashlight and told her she could look at a book in her bed for 10 mins after I left. I would usually come back and find her fast asleep with the flashlight hidden under her pillow.

    I found that a lot of it had to do with control and not being alone.

    When she said she was scared of something I would take a bottle of Monster Spray (Body Shop room spray) and spray down her room.

    Good luck man, you are going to need it.

  11. My son is ” I’m thirsty I want water”.. there is no easy way but to be consistent. if you say is the last story.. it needs to be the last story.. My son already knows he only gets water once and thats it… he still has his moments but for the most part he gets the point

  12. I’ve done things a bit differently with my six (23 yrs, 21 yrs, 16 yrs, 12 yrs, 5 yrs, and a just-turned-1 yr old three days ago!). We co-sleep until around 18 months to 2 years depending on the child. After that, from around 2 to around 3 to 3 1/2, I move them to a little bed beside ours and I lay down with my little one until they fall asleep. Then, at somewhere around 3 1/2 to 4, they move into a room with a sibling and I do the nighttime reading and singing routine, then rub my little one’s back or just sit there and hum until they fall asleep. By 4 1/2 or so, they are all happy to go to bed with a story and a song and stay in bed for the night (with the occassional exception of a potty break or drink of water). Not for everyone, but it works for us!

  13. I read a book called the no cry sleep solution and it saved my life. I was so frustrated with bedtime. It sounds like you are already doing most of the things the book suggests… the key is having a schedule and sticking to it. You just slipped up on the “sticking to it” part… Things will fall back into place after a few days. They might be a long few days… but you’ll get through it.

    • Distracted Dadddy on at
    • Reply

    Ha. Love the honest answer to your question. My little girl has started to ask for “cuddle cuddle” before bedtime or else crying will ensue.

    They definitely have us figured out.

    1. These topics are so confusing, but this helped me get the job done.

    2. 9680Dw xdfhqrtwdxie

  14. When I went through this with my oldest daughter we would finish the story, turn the lights out and cuddle with her for a little while. This helped to stop the repeated requests for more stories and gave us some snuggle time.

    1. That’s pretty much what I do now, too, Jessica. I also sing two songs on my way out the door. 🙂

  15. I have always thought it was a beautiful sentiment that you put the wee one to bed every night. I’m afraid the only advice I can offer you is to try to avoid the “giving in monster” as far as the ‘one more daddy please?’ goes. It is difficult to tell them no, but it must be done…

  16. I remember those days very well….I too think you have to stick by what you say or YOU will be the one suffering the consequences. And your lil one will be extra happy knowing she can always get her way in this area.

    When my boys were babes, I had them on a schedule, which I think will horrify some people nowadays.

    But, we had dinner every night at the same time. After dinner was about half hour of quiet cuddling then a nice warm bath, where they could play with their toys. It wasn’t unheard of that they would spend almost an hour in the tub. Warm water to make them more sleepy, lol.

    Then jammies and a drink, all done in a relaxing manner so as to not excite them. Then one story in bed followed by one song, all the while being cuddled.

    Then…that was it….lots of I love you’s, followed by tucking them in. And keeping the house quiet, so they could fall asleep.

    I never minded what time they woke up in the morning. Even if it was super early, that was OK by me, it was the nightime routine that was important for me to get into place.

    Loving your blog Michael!

  17. Aw! So cute. I bet you are going to miss this in a few years. She just wants a little more time with her daddy. One day she’ll be too big for that!

  18. I’m a mean Dad. When I told my daughters, each of them, it was time for bed, I just walked out of the room. I endured some crying and screaming but after a little while, they knew the drill.
    And it has helped a ton now that they are older.

    (I’m a visitor from blogfrog)

  19. My kids are teens and pre-teens and they still figure out ways to prolong bedtime… The worst is when they really, really, need to talk. What parent can resist that? (Certainly not one who is a therapist.) 🙂 My favorite is: Want to hear what happened at school today? Really? Am I going to say no? If it gets to be a habit, I set the limits (write it down so you don’t forget and tell me in the morning). With your 2 year old maybe you could tell her any other books after the first one can go in a pile of books to read tomorrow, then you communicate you’re still there for her while setting a limit. There’s a therapy trick called always saying yes…Yes we can read that book tomorrow…. Yes you can have one more hug…save it for morning and come surprise me when you wake up… The always say yes trick works with toddlers who like to fight agains the words “no,” and “not now.” Sometimes at that age I think you could say, “Want to go to Disneyland?” and they’d say “no.”

    1. I love this! Thanks, Mary.

      There’s a therapy trick called always saying yes…Yes we can read that book tomorrow…. Yes you can have one more hug…save it for morning and come surprise me when you wake up… The always say yes trick works with toddlers who like to fight agains the words “no,” and “not now.” Sometimes at that age I think you could say, “Want to go to Disneyland?” and they’d say “no.”

  20. I have read through all the comments because, like you, I have a little one that turned 2 only 2 months ago. She has got us wound so tightly around her little finger, I don’t know if we are ever going to win. And of late, she is fond of not listening to her father whenever I am around.
    I don’t know what to do, then she sleeps with us (she co-clept until 6 months, then moved to her cot beside our bed, then to her cot in her room around 1 and finally into her own bed by 18 months), then she doesn’t, then she’s fine, then she’s not. Problem is, I am studying a BA and doing Yoga Teacher’s Training in addition to having my own business that I am trying to start up. It is not easy at all, so I just choose the path of least resistance because that way I get more time to do the things that I need to do. What I SHOULD do is just stick it out and be tough.

    Of all your answers, I like Mary’s the most. THe always yes answer. I think I can do that. Although it will be darling ot see her try and understand the term tomorrow as her timing is still out of wack.

    1. I’m going to try Mary’s “yes” strategy tonight. How did it go with your little one, Nadya? It must be rough with all you had (have) going on.

  21. Though it totally sucks, you have to keep in mind this is a phase of all toddlers. Yes, be consistent. Learn to deal with the crying. Try playing good cop/bad cop with your wife’s help. We’ve just gone through this phase and we are one the other side with our once again perfect sleeper. It took sometimes 2 hours of battling at bedtime (he’s in a bed though so he was getting out) and it felt exhausting and like it would never end but eventually he figured out he couldn’t manipulate us into letting him stay up.

    1. I’m sure you’re right. I try to be consistent, but sometimes slip a bit over time. It’s going much better now, though. Thanks so much for your advice.

  22. Just found your blog via Twitter. What an awesome blog! 😀

    My young-ins are 20 and 23. We did the family bed thing. It may not be popular, but it worked for us.

    I’d lay down with them in mom and dad’s (that’s me and hubby’s) king-size bed. We’d read and I’d lay with them until they snoozed off.

    We continued that for a couple years. Then they started going to sleep on their own, side by side after a book or two, still in the king-sized bed.

    Once asleep, we’d move them to their beds where they usually slept through the night and would awake in a different room than they went to sleep in. (We of course told them we would move them.)

    Then they just started going to sleep in their beds.

    So….it was a 5-year(?) process. lol But hey, they always slept well and never wet the bed.

    Good luck on figuring out what works for you.

    To the adventure!

    1. 5 year process??? Yikes. 😉

      Oh, and thanks for following me here from Twitter. I love the conversations that occur in the comments on blog posts. We can learns so much from each other. Have a super evening, Carol!

  23. I think all children do this, it must be in their “manuals” to trick patents and in my case, grandparents.

    1. What is this conspiracy that keeps us parents (and grandparents) from acquiring the kid manual? At least as grandparents you can hand the wee ones back. 🙂

  24. Very funny! But also very typical!

    I’m wondering what her nap times are like and what time you are trying to put her down to bed at? Sometimes adjusting the nap time ahead an hour or bedtime back an hour (whatever works best for your schedule) helps.

    Other times, it’s something else. This is a blog post I made on the getting your child to sleep through the night –

    2 year olds are complex, because they are beginning to learn how to negotiate.

    1. I think you are right about nap times. I’ve often put her down for naps too late, and it probably does mess up her sleep. She’s now at the point where she’s almost past napping. Kind of hit and miss. Thanks, Laura!

  25. One word: NO

    People are afraid to say no to children, so they bend over backwards trying to explain things to a baby. I have a 2.5 year old girl. She behaves terribly with my wife, because my wife feels obligated to explain why she can’t have the 100 random things she asks for for dinner. Or the 20 things she needs before bed. The baby never gets cut off, so she just keeps asking, then whining, then crying and screaming.

    She does not do that with me. She knows that when I tell her no, there is not going to be a lot of explaining and bargaining. And if she cries with me, it is a really phony whimper that lasts a couple minutes, rather than the crazed screaming she does with my wife. She feels obligated to protest, but knows that it is not worth putting a lot of energy into it.

    You have no doubt explained that after one story she needs to go to bed. You have probably explained the biological importance of sleep, none of which she understood. You have tried to reason with a child who is mentally and emotionally beyond reason. Now try saying No.

    She will cry at first. But then she will learn. And having finally found an actual boundary, she will feel safer and more secure and more happy.

    Just Say No!

    1. As our daughter has gotten older I’ve slipped into some bad habits that I’m trying to dig myself out from under… AGAIN. 🙂 Last night after she called me up the first time, she wanted “one more minute, daddy.” I said no, and she cried for 30 seconds and then slept all night. Appreciate the advice!

  26. I enjoyed reading all the above comments and there are some fantastic ideas/methods! I’ve had my fair share of all of the above with my mr 2.5 and have succussfully reigned in the prolonging bed time behaviour. I only have 2 small things to add:
    1, in addition to same routine every night I’ve also found being especially strict with doing the routine in exactly same order helps a lot. My boy has no doubt about exactly what’s happening when.
    2, depending on age resistance at bedtime could also have a lot to do with not being tired enough. Might be worth looking at how much day sleep is taking place and if it could be cut back or dropped completely.

    Good luck and remember you are the boss!

    1. Thanks, Karina. I’m the boss, I’m the boss, I’m the boss… wait, I’m the boss?

  27. This really takes time. You have to be patient when it comes to this habit. I’m sure time will pass that you will no longer have to deal with this issues once your little girl finally feels comfortable.

    1. Thanks, Cindy. It is getting better. Part of my problem is giving in to “just one more story, daddy”. 😉 I need to be more consistent and firm.

  28. Very helpful ideas for the kids sleep. A good comfortable mattress/bed has a great impact on toddlers sleep. I appreciate your advice. Thank you so much.

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