How to transition your child to bedtime using a timer

Updated Jul 31, 2023
Transition to bedtime with a timer

Oh, bedtime resistance from a toddler — what a parent would give to make that situation disappear! No matter how good of a sleeper your child is, bedtime resistance is bound to happen at some point in their life, especially when they are around 2 - 5 years of age. While this is exhausting, it is developmentally normal behavior for a child, as sleep difficulties are highly prevalent in early childhood. A child’s job is to play, and as soon as they hit toddlerhood, they realize that sleep is not as fun as we make it out to be. It is also normal that children this age want to spend as much time with their parents as possible, and nighttime is probably the longest period of separation between a child and parent. 


Using timers for the bedtime battle

5 tips and tricks to make bedtime easier

Introducing bedtime routines

Transition to bedtime using a timer FAQ

Bedtime battle is usually the name we give to a child’s refusal to go to bed. Some children protest and resist bedtime in a very direct way (think, a tantrum), while others engage in very smart tactics to postpone bedtime as much as possible. A visual bedtime timer is an amazing tool to help the transition into bedtime easier. For the first 5 years of life, children struggle to understand the concept of time. This means that phrases like “you have 10 more minutes” or “In five minutes you have to stop,” make no sense to them — they have no idea what 1, 5, or 10 minutes mean! It is basically a child’s job to have trouble transitioning from one activity to the next (especially if the next activity is not fun) — and it's our job as parents to help them navigate different situations in a firm, but kind way!

A visual timer is a great tool to help anticipate when one activity ends, and when bedtime begins. Here is how you can incorporate a timer into your kiddo’s bedtime routine:

  1. When it is almost time for bedtime, explain to your child that it is almost time to stop playing and go to bed. 

  2. Show them the visual bedtime timer and explain to them that once the timer ends, it is time to end the activity and start getting ready for bed. 

  3. Make sure they understand what will happen when the timer goes off. Engage in visual contact with your child and ask them, “What happens when the timer goes off?” The answer should be: “Bedtime!”.

  4. Once the timer goes off, make a positive statement about your child’s behavior and proceed to end the activity and start the bedtime routine. You can say something like, “The timer went off, isn’t it fun to get some playtime before bed? Now it is time to go upstairs.”

Will it work the very first time you try it? Maybe, maybe not. It’s normal if the timer strategy doesn’t magically work the first time to decrease the protesting, but with time and consistency, your child will understand what the timer means.

If faced with protest, you can validate your child’s emotion but redirect them to the boundary. Here is an example of how to do this: “I understand that you want to keep playing — playing is fun! But the timer went off and that means that we have to get ready for rest. Tomorrow you will get to do something fun again.”

Pleading with your child to go upstairs to get ready for bedtime is no fun, especially after an exhausting, long day. The good news is that there are many strategies we can use as parents to decrease bedtime battles and increase cooperation when the time comes to go to sleep. Here are some tips to make bedtime easier:

An under-tired child will not want to go to sleep, understandably, and an overtired child will have a lot of trouble “winding down” — understand your child’s sleep needs so that you can offer bedtime at the perfect time.

If your child has to jump from one room to another to complete certain tasks, this might make it harder for them to focus and get in the mood to sleep. If possible, try to have all or most of your child’s bedtime routine steps inside the room where your child will sleep.

Children love to feel in control, so let them! Give them options on which PJ to wear, what book to read, what toothpaste to use, or what song to sing. If your child feels like they have a say in the routine, they are more likely to be cooperative.

If your child doesn’t enjoy brushing their teeth, make this one of the first steps of the routine and leave their favorite for last, this way they will be in a better mood when they jump into bed. 

Use a timer to help your child transition into activities. You can set a timer for getting dressed and a timer for brushing their teeth for example. 

Routines are perhaps one of the most important elements of a successful nighttime sleep. A consistent bedtime routine is associated with better sleep outcomes and increased sleep duration, among other benefits. Routines help our children anticipate what is coming and what is expected of them. They also allow them to help prepare their body for sleep and promote learning in any setting.

Children are visual learners, so creating a visual bedtime routine, in which you use pictures or photos to display the steps of the routine is more effective than just using your words. Involve your child in the making of this visual bedtime chart, and allow them to make it their own with fun stickers and colors!

If at any point during the bedtime routine, your child expresses that they don't want to go to bed or brush their teeth, you can acknowledge their feelings but redirect to the chart:

“I understand that you don't want to brush your teeth right now, but your bedtime chart says it’s time.”

Transition to bedtime using a timer FAQ

Q: How do I get my child on a bedtime schedule?


To get your child on a bedtime schedule you should first identify their sleep needs, and take into consideration if they still take a naptime or not. Once you understand the amount of sleep your child needs, and the preferred wake-up time, then you can count back the hours to set a bedtime. Establish a consistent bedtime routine, create a sleep-friendly environment, and turn off any electronics before bedtime to aid your child in relaxation.

Q: How do you sleep train with a clock or timer?


You can use a visual timer to help your child transition into their bedtime routine and bed. By showing them the amount of time they have left until they need to go to bed, they can transition into bedtime easier and with less protest. You can sleep train your child with a toddler clock (such as an OK to Wake clock) by introducing your child to the clock, and explaining when it is time to rest and when it is appropriate to get out of bed. Both tools can aid in bedtime battles and night wakings if applied consistently.

Q: Why is bedtime such a battle?


Bedtime battles are a normal occurrence, and the reasoning behind them depends on each child. Some children fear that they will miss out on some fun, others want to keep playing, while others get anxious about the long separation from their parents at night. Inconsistent bedtime routines, and putting children down for bed too late can also contribute to increased bedtime battles.

Q: How do you deal with difficult bedtime?


Difficult bedtimes can be dealt with by appropriate bedtimes, implementing consistent routines, and setting boundaries for children clearly and kindly. Children do better when they feel better, and calming, predictable routines and rules around bedtime can help them feel more at ease at night. Age-appropriate tools like visual bedtime routines, and timers, can also help parents make bedtime easier.

Q: How do I use a timer to help with my child’s bedtime routine?


You can use a timer to help your child anticipate when the bedtime routine is going to start. Since children don’t understand the concept of time in the first years of life, showing them the passing of time allows them to anticipate transitions and respond better to them. Using a timer during bedtime can also help avoid bedtime stalling, as using the timer will help your child focus on one step of the bedtime routine at a time.

Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.