Bedtime with a toddler is not always the easiest task. Toddlers are designed to test limits and persist. They also have BIG feelings. Those two factors combined with bedtime can lead to challenges. By using choices with your toddler at bedtime, you can avoid a battle and create a successful bedtime for your family.
Why Use Choices
The toddler years are full of cognitive development. This is because our two- and three-year-olds are learning their power and influence in the world. Your child wants to know if they do a certain action (like throw a toy, say “no,” or take their diaper off) will they always get the same response (like the toy breaking, possibly getting what they want, or a parent upset or yelling). This leads to a lot of limit and boundary testing. And because our toddlers don’t have too many other responsibilities, their ability to persist often outdoes our ability as parents to stay consistent. Toddlers also start to experience feelings on a big scale. It can be overwhelming, unpleasant, and sometimes scary to see your toddler have an intense tantrum. Using choices with your toddler at bedtime can address both of these developmental phenomena:
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- Choices let your toddler be in control of the outcome during bedtime routine
- Choices let your toddler end up with what they want, and therefore avoid a big tantrum
Opportunities for Choices during Bedtime Routine:
When using choices with your child, be sure to give options that will be successful. Don’t offer something you don’t want your toddler choosing!
- Pajamas: Instead of “Go pick out your pajamas for tonight.” Try “Do you want to wear your doggy pjs or purple pjs tonight?”
- Book: Instead of “What book do you want to read tonight?” Try “Do you want to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Good Night Moon?” (have the books in front of your child when they are making the choice)
- Stuffed animal: Instead of “Which lovey will sleep with you?” Try “Will you sleep with your stuffed bear or bunny tonight?”
- Location: Instead of “Let’s go change your diaper.” Try “Do you want to change your diaper in the bathroom or your room?”
What to do if your Toddler Doesn’t Make a Choice?
Choices help our toddlers feel like they are in control. Toddlers like control, so this helps avoid tantrums. Sometimes, even when using choices with your toddler at bedtime, your child may refuse to make a choice—or try to choose an option you did not offer. In this case, I recommend that you make the choice for them. This can end up with a big reaction from your toddler, but with time and practice, your child will learn to choose one of the options you’ve given.
Using choices with your toddler at bedtime helps make that part of the day smooth and enjoyable for your family. You also want to ensure that you have a predictable bedtime routine and early bedtime in place, and a safe and conducive sleep environment.