My son is 2½ years old and he thinks he's figured out a smart trick to avoid having to sleep. Our responses sometimes work, and sometimes they don't. Even when they work, it's time-consuming and prevents us from our evening tasks or whatever we do after he's gone to sleep.

What are effective ways of not letting his tricks succeed?


A while after he's gone to bed, he will sometimes demand another pacifier, or a drink of water. Very loudly. If we deny it, there's no end of tears and cries, so he usually gets his request, but only once.

A while later, he might demand some oatmeal (his favorite breakfast). We never grant him that but explain that he'll get some in the morning, after he has slept, which mostly works. Or he wants one of us to stay with him, which we then often do for a few minutes.

I'm sure his next invention will be to demand to use the potty, which we would also have a hard time denying.

... I have a feeling that we're too soft because too many of his blackmail attempts succeed. But I don't have the energy to cope with the crying, yelling, and an extra hour of not sleeping that always follows when we deny his requests. Also, noise travels quickly to his room because we live in an apartment. He gets active when he hears a TV or my typing on the keyboard although I try to be quiet.

This has to change. Suggestions welcome!

  • Would adding a white noise/other soothing noise machine to his room help block noise from other rooms? Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 19:45
  • 1
    Maybe "How can I beat my toddler..." shouldn't be the first couple words of your question. :) Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 20:24
  • @DanAndrews I'd much appreciate if you edited to improve it! I'm not a native English speaker and couldn't think of a better phrasing. Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 20:32
  • @MelitaKennedy we already have some "artificial rain", but the door is basically cardboard :-) and close to the living room. But the real problem is the little guy's creativity! Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 20:33
  • @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun - There's nothing grammatically incorrect with your title. It's a "first glance" at the title that's interesting is all. You're doing a fine job. Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 20:51

6 Answers 6


When Andrew was going through this phase (which was accompanied by copious amounts of mommy-guilt because I was pregnant with our daughter and we had just moved him into his big-boy bed), we finally had to just let him be upset for awhile because it finally dawned on us that he was all ready cutting in to our evening work every single night with his constant getting out of bed/making demands/etc. The key to him getting to bed at a reasonable hour and us getting our evening chores accomplished was breaking the habit.

Andrew was more prone to getting out of bed than making demands (or he'd make the demands once he came downstairs). So we had to institute the pick-up and put back in bed approach. There was no talking, no giving in to demands. We made sure he had everything he needed before he got into bed (drink of water, a couple of crackers, blanket, pillow, paci, etc.). It took about a week and the first few nights were really rough (I think one night he got out of bed about 15 times), but he finally got the picture that bedtime was bedtime. We had to re-do this whole thing when we moved to our new house, but that took significantly less time the second time around (a couple of nights) and he didn't get out of bed as much. I don't know if this would work for you because it doesn't sound like your son actually gets out of bed, he just yells. Maybe going in there and laying him down and telling him no? I hate to tell you to just ignore him or give him five minutes before you go in there and tell him no, but if he's not actually getting out of bed I'm not sure what would work.

I think kids think that Mommy and Daddy are having a big party after they go to bed and they don't want to miss it. Or whatever Mom and Dad are doing is more fun than going to bed, so they invent ways to just stay up. So we also sort of minimized noise and interruptions around the house one he was in bed (we'd turn down the TV, avoid running the vacuum cleaner, turn off the hallway lights, etc.).

  • Yes, my son is not actually leaving his bed. He just sits up and calls loudly, not crying. But he will strongly resist being laid down and start crying then. Commented Mar 17, 2012 at 21:35

Captain Obvious again ... you have to not let them work. Good parenting takes courage. Show no fear!

NEVER, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES give in to tantrum behavior. It needs to be punished, quickly and firmly. Raise the stakes. If the kid shouts, his teddy bear goes into time out. He screams again, every other toy goes into time out. If he works himself into a frenzy, break the cycle .. hold his shoulders and stare into his eyes.

I suggest reading James Dobson's book The Strong Willed Child. The concepts in it changed how we raised our daughter and also saved our marriage, because we became able to deal with our daughter.

  • I very much like this answer. "Don't give in" is something I've said often enough myself, it should be obvious. Thanks! Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 6:28
  • Reviews on Amazon indicate that Dobson's book advocates spanking, which I personally don't believe in. Apart from that, it sounds promising. "Spanking is advocated, but there are so much more to this book [...]" say one, but I'm not sure I can look around that aspect. It's curious that the Amazon reviews are divided nearly 50/50 between one and five stars, with very few in the middle ground. Commented Jun 12, 2012 at 7:34
  • How will you know if you don't read it? "Spanking" is non-specific and somewhat pejorative. He advocates using corporal punishment when other forms of punishment fail. I personally found a tight squeeze of the neck/shoulder muscle far more effective for defiance than anything else. Dobson clearly, specifically and repeatedly says one should not punish from anger. Which is worse .. effective corporal punishment delivered calmly, or repeating ineffective punishments with increasing levels of frustration and emotion?
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Jun 12, 2012 at 16:36
  • Any punishment, in order to be effective, must be unpleasant. It must inflict discomfort of some kind in order to have an impact on future behavior. I don't see a difference between the physical discomfort and emotional discomfort, when both are given dispassionately and without anger.
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Jun 12, 2012 at 16:52
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    The most important aspect is to NOT ACT FROM ANGER. You don't see people on Dr. Phil because they were spanked, but plenty whose Mom or Dad was "emotionally abusive."
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Jun 12, 2012 at 17:02

I read in a toddling book that the child has to pick up on the dullness of Mama and Papa's night life - if a request is granted, then without talking or emotion on behalf of the parents . If the child leaves his Crib/room/bed, he is put into bed without fuss, comment or excitement.

The child notices that Mummy and Daddy aren't really doing anything more exciting and sleep comes sooner.

(Paraphrased from a book br Dr. S Green (I think), who phrases it much better than me!)

  • 'Toddler Taming Tips' - Dr. Christopher Green ISBN: 9780091889678 '…Never encourage Jack-in-the-Box- behaviour. You put them back once, no questions are accepted, you know you are in charge, they know where they stand and that is is it.' (p.81)
    – Edd Turner
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 10:28

Crying didn't manage to kill either of my kids, especially before bedtime, so I've learned to shrug it off. My SO thinks it's odd, but I point out that when the girl cries before bed, she's usually asleep much faster. While I punish tantrums otherwise, I find before bed, a tantrum just wears a kid out.

My son had more lasting power than my daughter, so I bought some headphones for the nights where it was that, or lose my cool.

My daughter tried the potty thing. I happily got her up and put her back in a diaper, then put her back to bed. She was so mortified, she never pulled that again.

Both kids have learned (at 4 and 10), that past 8:30, the only interaction they're going to get from me is if they're throwing up.


I'm not sure it applies since your son stays in bed, but our solution in this case was to keep taking away options. The toys left his room after the first all-nighter. All available flat surfaces were covered in the first week (he liked to climb up on tables and demand a diaper change). His door knob was covered so he couldn't open it during the second week. Stuffed animal X taken away, Toy Y taken away, etc. He either wore down or we found the magic combination eventually. We had a couple bad parenting patches in this because it turned out he had a bad ear infection when we thought he was just being exceedingly difficult.

For your son, my suggestion would be to start bedtime a little bit earlier if possible and take away his delaying options before bed. "Would you like a drink of water? Do you need to go potty? Etc" After lights are out, stand firm, at least for that hour. My son will occasionally convince me to sing him a lullaby if I go in there after some time and he's still awake.

As far as the noises you make, I would suggest avoiding changes to your routine. White noise helps to some extent, but you can't tiptoe around forever.

One thing a friend of mine tried that worked for her was rewarding proper sleep with a big production in the morning and a treat at breakfast. Her daughter got strawberries in her cereal. Feeding my son is already a hassle, so it didn't make a difference for us.


Even when I'm pretty certain it's just a stall technique, I feel badly refusing a drink of water or access to the toilet. We've made the final drink and bathroom visit (even if they "don't have to go") part of the bedtime routine every night. Then, once they're in bed, I feel free to enforce the rules more strictly.

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