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How to stop bedtime dawdling
Q: How can I get my 2-year-old to stop stalling at bedtime?
A: Oh, Tina, this is a tough one. With many toddlers, dawdling officially begins as soon as teeth are brushed and night diaper and pj’s are on. Shutting them down is rather like turning off your computer. You know how, after you click on “Shut Down,” you get this little box that asks you, “Are you sure you really want to shut down your computer?” That always annoys me. Invariably I hit the Enter key fairly hard and mutter, “I already told you I wanted to shut down.”

The same kind of thing happens when bedtime is announced to toddlers. After you tell them it’s time for bed, they think maybe you clicked the Shut Down key in error. They show by their dawdling that they don’t really believe you. It is as though they have put a question up on the monitor, “Are you really sure you want me to shut down?” And they don’t give you much of a chance to respond. They just go on and on. Their batteries don’t run down, and they don’t need an external power source. But they do need a little extra patience from you.

They run to take toys out that have been put away for the night, often, incidentally, choosing some they played with earlier in the day, and seem to want to start everything all over. If you watch this closely, you will see they are often sort of “reviewing their day,” as though remembering some of the most interesting things that happened—and sharing them with you.

That’s your signal to click on your hypothetical box on the monitor that says, “Yes, I want you to shut down.” Then be a dear and give them an extra 15 minutes. If you have an old-fashioned clock, point to the minute hand and say, “You may play until the hand reaches this point.” Offer to read an extra story. Or let the play go on and use the time to match up socks or fold underwear. But when the hands reach the designated point, confirm the Shut Down command, scoop the dawdler up into bed, kiss firmly, and turn out the light.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education