how to turn the tables on bedtime and help your needy toddler

"Don't go yet, MOM. I want you to stay. NO. NO. NO!" pierced our usually peaceful goodnight.

Apparently our Mommy'n Me Time (Special Time) we had after daycare wasn't enough together time for my 3 year old. Nor was our laughter-filled dinner. Nor was her bath time that got both her dad and me soaked. Nor were her favourite stories. Nor was our usual Talk Time.

She was her usual happy-go-lucky self until I was about to leave.

It was 8:30. She was very tired. I was tired. And, there were dishes, laundry, and some lounging I wanted to do before my own bedtime in 30 minutes (Wow. How my sleep patterns have changed since becoming a mom!)

I suggested I go check on dad and return, therefore giving her a moment. 

I thought it was a great idea until she leaned out of her bed with a snarly face and spat out "NO. YOU. WON'T. YOU. WILL. NOT. LEAVE." followed by the highest pitched scream I had heard to date.

The snarly scream really made me want to stay and hang out. I needed that scream to remind me how much I would like to stay and enjoy my time with her. [insert deadpan sarcasm]

Maybe you see this too. Maybe your child expresses this fear of separation in different ways, like

  • immediately rolling over and grasping at the crib rails

  • jumping out of bed

  • tears

  • screams

  • hitting

  • "fix my blanket"

  • "I need a drink"

  • "I need to go pee" (again?!?)

  • throwing things

  • (please comment with the stall tactics you experience in your family!)

Maybe you've heard from sleep experts that these stall tactics need to be met with boring and repetitive responses so they don't 'learn' to expect it from you, like this:

The most important thing to remember when [stall tactics/protesting] happens is that YOU remain in control of bedtime. [...] If and when your little one starts trying out her old bedtime tricks on you, it is extremely important to be firm and consistent
— popular sleep expert


Sleep is the ONLY time when a child is separated from parent for many families. Or, it marks yet another time when a child will be separated from parent. And, when a child is showing these signs, all she is saying is "I need you here to feel safe. I am learning so much and you are what grounds me. You are my space to recharge so I can relax then learn more tomorrow." 

My soon-to-be absence really did feel like the end of the world to my daughter. All she needed was for me to stay and love her... even though she was expressing that need with anger and hostility.

BIG BREATH mama. Big breath. I paused. I recited Rachel Macy Stafford's mantra: only love today. I thought of Hand in Hand Parenting's Playlistening and how it may help her through this moment. 

Play full of laughter can quickly restore an affectionate connection between adult and child.

This kind of play, which I like to call Playlistening, eases tensions and helps parent and child dissolve power struggles and daily upsets.

So, rather than tell your child what to do in a serious, adult-like tone, try to find a way to playfully take the less powerful role. As your child begins to laugh, continue to play that role, doing precisely what makes her laugh over and over again.
— Patty Wipfler, founder of Hand in Hand Parenting

So, mid-step, I turned around with a silly face and spat back:

"No. No. I Won't. I. Will. Not. Leave.

I. Need. One. More. Huuuuuuuug."


Keeping eye contact with a twinkle in my eyes, I scrambled to her bedside. I started playfully pawing at her ankles, pretending to pull her out of bed with all my might.

"I need one more hug! You can't make me go without it! Get over here."


Over and over again, I "pulled" her towards me for a hug by her ankles, her legs, and arms, and, over and over again, she would "escape." She was squealing in delight, laughing, sweating, and losing her breath with the exertion. I was too.

Instead of battling her NEED for my attention, I gave it.

Instead of tears, I got laughter.

Instead of the frustration of constant call backs to her room, I got a HUGE squeeze, sloppy kiss, and a sendoff:

"I love you. You can go now."


All it took was 3 minutes and I got my peaceful goodnight.

What makes me feel best about my actions is that I felt that I was there for my daughter when she asked for me. I reinforced that I love her even in those times when she's not feeling or acting her best. I *know* that I am setting up a receptive space for the inevitable trials and tribulations that adolescence and beyond has in store for us. THAT feels good... way better than dishes, laundry, or 30 minutes of leisure time would ever gift me.


We're here to listen.