Getting Kids to Go to Bed: One Trick That I’ve Used


As parents, we all run into the occasional night where are toddlers or kids resist bedtime.

They just don’t want to go to sleep, and even if we have a routine established, they put up a fuss. If you had a bad day and are short tempered, you can easily let it turn into a fight with your kids. If you are more relaxed about it and flexible with your thinking, you can often just turn the situation around before it ever evolves into something difficult.

Remember that kids just want to do things that they deem fun, comforting, or somehow satisfying. As a parent, if you get resistance from your child, you can turn that into co-operation if you transform what you are doing into something that is more fun, more comforting, or more satisfying.

Here’s a recent example.
My oldest daughter was watching Berstein Bears in our bedroom during “quiet time” before bed. My wife had already taken my youngest daughter off to brush teeth and cuddle, and I was giving my older daughter another 15 minutes. When the cartoon ended, I told her it was time for bed, as usual. She put up a whiny fuss about it and I knew I had to change the direction of the situation right away, or I’d risk a tantrum. At the very least, it would just set the wrong tone for bedtime and it would take longer to get her settled.

What I did:
I was standing at the edge of the bed telling her it was time for bed, and I had the remote in my hand to turn off the TV. If I simply turned it off, I risked killing our rapport and turning the whining into a big fight. So I playfully tossed the remote onto the mattress beside her. She knows how to hit the “off” button so I gave her a little challenge. I told her, “Ok sweetie … I’m going to give you a 20 second head start and then I’m going to crawl over to the TV and I’m going to turn it off. I wonder if you’ll beat me to it.”

I started (again, playfully) counting to 20. By the time I got to 4 she was into it and didn’t want to wait. She said, “Daddy – just go, start crawling.” I did exactly that. I got onto the floor and started creeping over to the TV like I was some kind of lion or tiger. I got halfway there when she turned the TV off and declared victory. I laughed, she laughed, and I carried her off to bed like the little princess that she is.

The whole “fuss” lasted all of 10 seconds. I didn’t negotiate with her or demand instant compliance with my wishes. That’s not the right way to handle it. It’s much easier, in my experience, to create a more compelling reason for her to want to go along with the routine. I just turned it into a game and that seemed more fun than a cartoon. I knew it would work (or at least I had a pretty good feeling it would) because we play games all the time. So I’m not telling you that this will work for you exactly as I’ve described it. Use your own instincts. But the same principles apply.

You can get more flies with honey than with vinegar … that’s what my Mom always used to tell me. Boy, was she smart.

SEE ALSO: This audio lesson will forever change the way you interact with your kids

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13 Responses to Getting Kids to Go to Bed: One Trick That I’ve Used

  1. JicyJac March 29, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    This is a great suggestion and I suspect it would work with my kids 99% of the time. For me the challenge is change my mind set think of more create ways of responding to my kids instead of just growling all the time. I'm only 1/2 way through your audio files so I'm still practicing. Thanks for you posts

  2. burrowing owl March 29, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    Used your two-choices technique with implicit follow-on the other day. Our toddler didn't want to eat pesto pasta (though we were sure she would like the taste because she likes pasta and like garlic). She claimed it was covered in broccoli. I said, “Do you want me to use the big spoon or the little one to scrape the broccoli off so that you can eat it?” Immediately she said “small one.” I made a show of scraping it off and gave her a few pieces like this. Then I intentionally got busy with something else and asked her to wait when she started pointing at the plate for more service. Eventually she couldn't stand waiting and tried one with all the pesto. And of course decided she could just eat them straight.

  3. sleepless little man March 29, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    That works for us but the moment the lights go off it's round 2 and the gloves are off for our 4 year old boy. Any suggestion's combating the constant getting out of bed? It takes an hour or more everynight with him.

  4. Juhi March 30, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    This is so true, Chris! Many a times I have faced similar situations with my 3 year old daughter…and i agree that just playing along and trying to divert them with something else is a better way of getting things done rather than demanding an immediate compliance…Super article..keep it coming! :-)

  5. Renee March 30, 2010 at 7:41 am #

    Hey Chris,
    I wanted to share a game I play with my daughter when she is resistant to bedtime. She is always the big kid at daycare (she's 4) so sometimes at home she wants to pretend shes a baby. When its time for bed I will ask her if she wants to be my baby and I will carry her to her bed and talk really softly, all the time calling her “baby.” I tell her what a cute baby she is and what a good baby she is. I will turn on her baby music which is a cd of lullibyes. This seems to put her in a great frame of mind for bedtime. She is very quiet and calm during this game so it works great to get her settled. Definetly easier than fighting. And it only takes 4-5 minutes of my time to have a much more peaceful night.

  6. Pam March 30, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    I have a similar problem as the person with “Round 2”. We have a great bedtime routing with bath, jammies, and books for our 3 year old and 5 year old. There are no arguments – it works well to get them up to bed and in bed particularly since they love books so much, the promise of a story is very motivating. But then . . . the getting out of bed starts. Sometimes they want a glass of water, or another hug and kiss, or another blankie, but it’s usually running around one another’s bedrooms, up and down the hall, playing with toys, going thru drawers, etc! Frustrating! Suggestions?

  7. sara March 30, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    I am finding your tips very useful. I tried getting my 2 1/2 year old daughter doing things using the 'because' tactic. It worked quite a few times but when it came to food, it didn't. And it was food which she usually eats. She kept saying 'no' in a determined way. What can I do? She ended up eating bread after having prepared her lunch and dinner. I couldn't leave her without food for 2 days, obviously.

  8. sara March 30, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    I tried the 'because' way of getting my daughter do things and it worked quite a few times. but when it came to dinner time, she kept saying no in a determined way. She did it consecutively and I had to give in to giving her bread as a meal!! That's what she wanted.

  9. naidine March 31, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    great advice

  10. tinker April 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm #


    It is great suggestion, but my daughter didn't go to her bed cause she fraid from ghost . So what can i do for her ???? How can i get her to sleep in her bed, even when she sleep in her bed she woke again and slept with us.

  11. akinolamojisola April 16, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    How do you bring up a child/teenager in a goldly way

  12. akinolamojisola April 16, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    How do you bring up a child/teenager in a goldly way

  13. Maryjohn September 20, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    Great Advise !

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