Anyone else feel like every age and stage brings a new set of hurdles in the sleep department? Even for parents who sleep trained early, toddler- and childhood can bring a whole new host of bedtime issues, from nightmares to power struggles to tiny people climbing into bed with you at 3 a.m. But according to the experts, there’s one phrase you definitely don’t want to say if you want to keep the evening moving: “Go to bed!”
According to Ali Lazar, a certified child sleep consultant at Goodnight Sleep Site, “go to bed” is the equivalent of rushing your child at the exact moment they’re saying they need to slow down.
“Your child’s requests—say, for one more bedtime snack—are bids for attention,” she explains. “Bedtime is a time of separation anxiety for kids and often times we’re moving too fast. Parents feel like, wow, this routine is ticking on too long, impeding on our time to watch Netflix or get work done, but kids feel that energy and grip onto us even more.”
And that’s when we might let out an exasperated “go to bed,” only to extend the power struggle and prolong the whole ordeal.
A better approach? Make a plan to slow things down at bedtime, Lazar suggests. “Give your kid undivided attention—a couple of minutes of playtime on the floor where you do kid yoga together or gaze at the stars on their bedroom ceiling. You can also give them choices that show you want to collaborate. For example, here are two jammies or two books. Ask them, ‘Which one do you want to wear? Which book do you want to read?’ You’re limiting the time spent, but also delivering on quiet, fun energy.”
As for the post-tuck-in requests, your best bet is to get ahead of them, she says. Ask if they need to use the potty one more time or be prepared with a bedtime snack (something small like a rice cake) or glass of water. If they keep pushing, that’s when you can set a limit. For example, they say, “I need one more book!” Your reply: “Tonight we’re going to keep to our schedule, but let’s make a pile to read first thing in the morning.”
Bottom line: the more your kid feels your patience and attention, the more likely they are to nod off without incident.