Consequences for Bedtime Battles that Work

Whether your child is stalling or refusing to go to bed, getting ready for sleep can be a stressful process for parents and kids. In this article, I’ll provide game-changing consequences for bedtime battles as well as how to prevent these challenges from happening in the first place.

Consequences for Bedtime Battles

The last thing any parent wants to deal with at the end of the day is a battle of wills with her child. But for many of us, this is exactly what happens every night, right when we have the least patience and willpower.

Your toddler is hysterical at bedtime or wants you to sleep on the floor next to her. You may not even know how it got to this point, except you do know it needs to get fixed, fast. 

I hear you, friend. I know all too well the importance of a good bedtime and how to respond with consequences that are effective and empathetic. Take a look at these game-changing insights below to turn bedtime battles around:

Use “lost time”

How do you tie your 2 year old’s bedtime tantrums with lost privileges when they don’t seem related? After all, we’ve all heard to take them away, but it’s tough to tie problems that happened the previous night to what he gets to do the next day.

One way is to explain it through “lost time.”

Let’s say it’s taking some time for him to settle down and stay in bed. You might say, “The longer we stay awake tonight, the less time we’ll have to read books together.” Once it’s time to read books, explain that he’ll only get to read for five minutes because it had taken him a whole hour to fall asleep.

Or let’s say you were supposed to take him to the park the next day. But now, you have to use that time to catch up on things you couldn’t get to the previous night because he had taken so long to get in bed.

And still, another consequence for lost time could simply be an earlier bedtime. Explain that he’ll be extra tired in the evening from being up so late the previous night. To make sure he’s well-rested, you’re going to move bedtime up 30 minutes earlier to catch up on lost sleep.

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Do the bedtime routine before anything else

What are some of the privileges your child gets to do at the end of the night? Maybe it’s watching an episode of a television show, reading bedtime books, or playing with toys.

Instead of doing these before he starts his bedtime routine, save them as a reward for doing so.

For instance, have him brush his teeth, use the potty, take a bath, and change into pajamas—all before he gets to watch his favorite show. He still might whine, but he has more of an incentive to get them “out of the way” in time to participate in activities he likes.

Prevent stall tactics

If I had to guess, one of the biggest struggles with your child is her constant requests. She needs just one more hug, a sip of water, or another trip to the bathroom. Perhaps she asks for an exact amount of light to peek through the curtains or yet another blanket tucking.

To break away from this pattern, start making sure that she has everything she needs before bed.

Incorporate these needs into her bedtime routine. For instance, does she usually ask for a cup of water? Offer her one before she takes a bath. Does she ask for tissues to wipe her nose in the middle of the night? Place a box of them by her bed.

What about requests like extra hugs and kisses? Have a set number in mind ahead of time and count them off as she gives them to you (for instance, three kisses for the night). Or you can say, “Give me all the hugs I’ll need to last until the morning,” so she has one less reason to ask for extras.

You can even make a list of her bedtime needs, letting her know that you’ve checked them off. That way, when you say goodnight, she can sleep knowing that all her needs are met. Any extra requests for the potty or stuffed toys weren’t “part of the plan.”

Implement a hard cutoff

One reason your child might stall or whine is because he doesn’t believe you when you say you’ll do something. Implement a hard cutoff, even if it means he cries and throws a fit.

If it’s time to turn off the tablet and he refuses, take the tablet from his hands. If he won’t stop playing with his toys, put them away for storage until tomorrow.

You can even use a timer so it doesn’t feel like you’re stopping his fun just because you decided to. Instead, the timer is the one that’s saying when it’s time to stop.

Don’t beg or plead, but don’t be upset about it, either—simply do what needs to get done in a matter-of-fact way. By controlling the environment that allows him to delay bedtime or not, you eliminate yet another obstacle to bedtime.

Give choices

Sometimes your child’s rebellion rises because she’s simply tired of being told what to do all the time. From what she eats to when she sleeps, you pretty much decide nearly everything about her day.

One way to help her be more willing to oblige is by giving choices during bedtime transitions, all while being firm on what’s non-negotiable.

For instance, she has to stay in her room for the night, but she can decide whether to sleep in her bed or a sleeping bag. Changing into pajamas is a non-negotiable, but she can choose to wear either the superhero ones or a t-shirt and shorts.

You have to be okay with either choice she makes as well as hold your ground on what’s not up for debate. But by giving her a say and inviting her into the decision-making process, she’ll be more likely to follow through with the choices she makes.

Check in at set times

Once you’ve closed the door behind you, give yourself set times to check in on your child instead of every time he happens to cry. For instance, check in at five minutes, then at 10 minutes, and finally, every 15 minutes thereafter.

Let’s say he cries the minute you leave. Don’t turn right around to tell him to quiet down. Instead, set your timer for five minutes and only go in at that time to remind him to go to sleep (and keep these check-ins brief—30 seconds is good enough!). If he’s still crying, set your timer for 10 minutes and repeat the process.

You’re reassuring him that you’re still here while breaking the expectation that you’ll come in every time he cries. If he wakes up crying at night, repeat the same check-ins just as you did at bedtime.

Then, the following morning, praise him for sleeping on his own. Yep, even if he cried and screamed, sleeping on his own was still a big accomplishment worthy of acknowledgment.

Expert tip

Do you still have your old baby monitor? Put it in his room so you can see what he’s doing between these check-ins.

3 Year Old Wakes up Crying Every Night

Experiment with nap time

Some kids stop needing a midday nap, but the transition may not be as smooth or gradual. Some days your child might take a long nap, while other times, she skips it entirely and ends up cranky the rest of the day.

Observe how she naps and make changes based on what you see.

For instance, if she still takes a nap but wakes up too close to bedtime, move it earlier or wake her by a certain time. Maybe she doesn’t take long naps anymore, but could still use a short catnap toward the late afternoons. Or maybe it’s time to drop the nap completely, giving her more chances in the day to play.

How well kids sleep isn’t just limited to the evenings, but to how many hours of sleep they get in 24 hours. By experimenting with her naps, you can ease her into a calmer sleep come bedtime.

Have a plan (and be consistent)

The best course of action is one taken with purpose and intention. For instance, are you staying in your child’s room until she falls asleep as part of a plan, or is this a reaction to her tears and tantrums?

No single method is better than another—we all do what works for us. But whatever it is you decide to do, be intentional about it. Have an end goal in mind as far as what you want to happen. What habits and routines do you want to stop doing and what do you want to replace them with?

Having a plan makes for more consistency, which will avoid conflicting messages. Imagine the confusion she feels if you tell her to sleep on her own one night, only to stay in her room the next.

Frequently asked questions

What if my child throws a fit about putting on PJs or brushing her hair? How can I get her to listen?

One way is to offer choices. You could say, “Do you want to wear the red pajamas or the blue ones?” Or “Do you want to brush your hair or do you want me to do it for you?” Keep both choices parent-approved so that you’re okay with either choice she makes.

Then, I would give her a head’s up in case she’s in the middle of an activity before hand. If she looks like she was having a blast in the bath, give her a 5-minute heads-up that she’ll be changing into pajamas soon.

The bottom line

Dealing with these bedtime battles can be frustrating for many parents, especially when your child fights going to sleep for hours. With these tips, your child can go back to sleeping well again—all without you sleeping on the floor next to her.

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  1. How do you do this morning session with multiple kids? I have 4 total, 3 of them are 3 and under.

    Also, biggest struggle is bed time for the 3 year old and 21 month old. It’s a major battle every night. They started sharing a room when baby 4 arrived. We’ve tried everything and it still takes at least 90 minutes from start to finish with a lot of yelling, threats and frustration.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Boy, 4 with 3 who are 3 and under is rough! I had 3 with 3 and under but not 4 lol.

      It’s so especially hard when they’re close in age. My twins tend to argue with each other more so than with their older brother. One thing I would do is to stay really, really consistent with your routine, and enforce any consequences that happen if they don’t follow it. For instance, if you typically read books at the end of the night, but they took too long to get dressed, then they’ve lost the privilege of reading books because they have to be in bed by a certain time. Let the natural consequences teach them that you really mean your word when you say something.

      That said, don’t make it sound like a threat or that it’s punishment. State it like a matter of fact, like you were saying the weather or the time of day. You could say, “Well, it’s 8pm, and that’s when bedtime is. Looks like we won’t be able to read tonight. Hopefully tomorrow we can bathe on time and read.”

      Also, give choices when it matters. Let’s say you struggle to get them to change into pajamas. Give them a choice between two things to wear, both of which you’re totally fine with. You could say, “It’s time to change into pajamas. Do you want to wear the ninja one or the striped one?” Then honor the choice they make.

      And again, be consistent with the routine itself. Do the same things at the same times and in the same order. The more you do this, the more automatic it becomes, like a habit, where they won’t even have to think about it. You’ll be able to be flexible down the line, but for now, you need to be strict with time and the activities you do, so that it becomes ingrained into their nighttime routine.

      Lastly, give them as much autonomy as possible, especially the oldest one. Let them have responsibilities and teach them self-sufficiency so that they need you to do things for them less and less. It can be little things like pumping the soap into their hands or getting their diapers or putting dirty clothes in the hamper. The more independent they can be, the less you’ll have to do for them.