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Bed time – Scourge of the Toddler World

Getting children to bed can often be an exercise in frustration and a test of patience.

Guest blogger Matt Rae offers some suggestions.

A question for the ages. How do you get your toddler to go to sleep?

To be honest, if I had THE answer, I’d be a millionaire by now. As most, if not all parents out there will know, getting your little one to bed can be quite a task. They can be a manipulative bunch, and will try anything to stall, or avoid going to bed at any cost. At least ours does.

Can you blame him though? He does not want to miss all the fun of dishwashing and bad TV, if only I could explain that is what we really do when he sleeps. Nothing too exciting.

We have been battling with this issue for a long, long time. Our Google search history is dominated by it. We had just about given up on tricks and tips for bed time, and moved to the more generally accepted method of, just deal with it.

This was working for a while, to be honest, he was only up out of bed two or three times before finally crashing out. I think at that point, he had worked out that we had an answer for every excuse in his playbook. Then it all changed, something new, that we couldn’t really deny him had become a reason to get out of bed.

I was so happy when he was finally potty trained, what an ordeal. Dennis the Menace however,had other ideas, a bed time plot ticking over in his three year old brain. It would rely on our meagre understanding of his bladder control, and our empathy for him and his decision not to wet the bed. A perfect idea. And it worked.

For the last few months he has been in and out of bed every ten minutes for three to four hours.

This change in toddler bed time strategy required action. We had had enough. But really, what could be done?

Here is the checklist we started running through

1. Go to the toilet before bed.
2. Go to the toilet before bed. (he always needs to go twice)
3. While he is on the toilet, get his drink (water) for bed.
4. Move the plastic blanket of toys accumulated on his bed from the previous night.
5. Allow him to choose ONE toy for bed. Ok, sometimes two, if he has been good.
6. Offer a bedtime story. (we take turns)
7. Put him to bed.
8. Sit on the couch, wait for five minutes until the first toilet break.
9. Sit on the couch, wait for the second toilet break.
10. Try to enjoy some adult time while constantly looking at the dog to make a move, indicating he was up, again…

Suffice to say, I have never been a fan of ten step programs, and this one was not working. At all.

Back to Google….

Once again, we turned to the internet. We spent our time trolling through different approaches that we hadn’t already tried. Keeping in mind you have to take these with a grain of salt, and try to apply bits and pieces that fit for you. Well, that is our approach anyway.

She found it!

My partner’s love affair with Pinterest had paid off, again. I got home from work one day and she proposed an idea, we both agreed it just may work. He is at a stage where he will understand the concept, and fingers crossed, he sticks by the new rule.

That Saturday morning, we began phase one of our scheme. We would have some art and craft time. With a twist.

We all worked on a card, a very special card which is now known as ‘The Bed Time Pass’. We all took turns adorning it with colourful pictures, stickers and whatever else we could find in the box. It was really great family time to boot.

He loved it, albeit still not fully aware of its purpose. We both sat with him after it was finished and explained how it worked.

‘This is your bedtime pass, if you jump out of bed you need to hand it over to us. It can only be used once a night.’

To be honest, the first night was a f*cking nightmare.

He was in shock. He was allowed out once, then he came out again. Met with no contact, just a held hand and a directive back to his bed. Every time, for about three hours. ‘Stick with it, we have to give it time’ we kept telling ourselves.

Then, the magic started to happen.

The second night, there was a little drama, but nothing major. From there on in, it has been working a treat.

He now saves it, holds on to it, ‘in case’ he needs to come out. The game has been flipped on its head. He no longer comes out of bed every ten minutes, he understands he is ALLOWED to come out of bed, ONCE. So, that is indeed what he does. No requirement to tell him it needs to be a good reason, he worked that out for himself.

Back to quiet nights, for now. Maybe we can get some reading done. I haven’t finished a book in months.

No doubt this will not last forever. But for now at least, I owe my sanity to ‘The Bed Time Pass’.

How do you get your kids to bed? I am sure we would all love to hear some ideas, please feel free to share.

Matt Rae writes of his experience as a first time father and other hair-raising adventures on his own site; The Unsimple Life


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  1. Florence nee Fedup

    This old woman might have put nappy back on, after the second time.

  2. Annie B

    I so loved this story. Thank you.

    Little kids these days ‘ wake up ‘ ( pun intended ) to how to manipulate to their own advantage – much much earlier than they did, say 20 – 30 years ago. …. Occasionally horrifies me to just watch how cunning they all can be – at THEIR age ?.

    Probably the TV and all those wonderful mind stimulating games / boards / bricks / and heaven knows what else available these days ….. causes this rapid advance in intellect – in a toddler > 5 year old.

    Do you have a coverable sand pit ? ( to protect from cats who need to ‘go’ and possums, and other nasties that might find their way in during the night ? ) … If not – make one – does wonders at soothing the spirit of a young ‘un. ( don’t know why it works, but it does – and has long lasting effects ).

    A drink of water at bedtime ? …. not such a good idea, perhaps. Fills the little bladder which could cause problems.

    Maybe offer a half glass of water – and at the same time a piece of carob ( chocolate substitute ) as an incentive for bed as well. There is no stimulating theo-bromine in carob products. But it tastes the same. … Then have him choose.

    Bet he would go for the ‘ chocolate ‘ ( carob ) concoction. Betcha.

    Then again, you have 99% the problem solved, at this time – ingenuously I might add – and that is fantastic.

    Gotta be on ya toes around toddlers these days. …. Don’t I know it ( and getting too old for it all, unfortunately ).

  3. eli nes

    In 1952 my parents and the couple next door went out to a ball leaving me and my little sister(5) to get the next door children, an infant and a baby toddler to bed. I gave the baby her bottle and laid her in the cot my sister say mrs xxx puts the baby over her shoulder a pats her back being a stupid boy i believed the girl and the baby promptly covered my shoulder with evil smelling chunder. Still i settled them down and sang them a lullaby and they went out like little lights.
    My sister and I settled down to the wireless listening to a scary ‘welcome to the innersanctum'(with a creaking door for effect) mysteries. After an hour I went to check on the kids to find the toddler standing in her cot plastering the business that had filled her nappy all over the wall – It took hours to clean up.
    That was the hardest shilling I have ever earned.
    we only had one bedroom so, whilst my school teacher darling did her marking and prep, i took the kids to bed put on the wireless 107.3 and often dropped off first

  4. Annie B

    eli nes …

    Doing a bit of guesswork – being a detective ?? here – I would say you might be around my age – or in your 70’s somewhere, anyway.

    It is amazing, on reflection, how parents could go out, day or night and leave the youngsters at home to mind babies ( my parents went out often enough – left me home alone, especially during the day ( I could have burned the house down !! ) – and later I had to look after my sister who was born when I was 6.

    In those days it was a) the perfectly normal thing to do, b) was done with a trust that all would be well, and c) left such young ones in charge of toddlers and babies. …. I often looked after my sister, when I was about age 8 onwards.

    Now, baby sitters usually come with references a yard long, and ( not sure about this ) perhaps even having to have a police check, before minding children for a small wage.

    Talk about memories – the old ” Innersanctum ” was my favourite radio programme of all time. Still love thrillers and mysteries on TV to this day.

    Just commenting because of the difference these days ( which are very scary at times ) … compared to the laid back, “she’ll be right, mate ” attitude of those past days. Trust vs. fear, in all aspects. I cannot decide which approach is best, or healthiest, having lived both sides of the coin.

  5. Pingback: Bed time – Scourge of the Toddler World | 61chrissterry

  6. 61chrissterry

    Reblogged on 61chrissterry

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