Playing the Bedtime Stalling-Tactic Game
I have a 3 and a half year old son that does great during the day, but when it is bedtime we spend about 3 hours every single night in and out of his room to go potty. He wears diapers to bed and for naps. I know that partially he is using having to go potty as an excuse to stay up later and I am not sure what to do. Do I continue to take him to the potty every 5 minutes until he finally tires and gives up? Or do I ignore him and then change his diaper in the morning???
Using the toilet as a bedtime stalling tactic is probably one of the oldest toddler tricks in the book. (And beyond. My kindergartner still does it on occasion.) It’s also an attention-getting tactic. The most surefire way to get them to tire of it, in my experience anyway, is to remove yourself from the game.
Switch him to Pull-Ups or training pants for naps and nighttime. Make sure the bathroom he uses is thoroughly child-proofed (no accessible medicines, cleaning products, etc.). If he wants to get up and use the potty, he can. You do not need to accompany him each and every time. You are not playing this little call-and-response game anymore.
And luckily, once you stop playing, the game will rapidly cease to be as fun. I mean, he’ll probably still pop out of him room a couple times to “go” but without you coming to his aid and giving him extra rounds of attention over and over, this particular stalling tactic just won’t pack the same one-two punch it did before. (If he swaps it out with the other toddler classic of “I need a drink of water,” send him to bed with a spill-proof sippy cup or get him a stool and a cup in the bathroom and let him get water by himself. Independence!)
Even if you’re still actively potty training and feel compelled to accompany him on these post-bedtime trips in order to praise/reinforce things, I’d still stop it and push for more independent potty usage. ESPECIALLY when it’s such an obvious game he’s playing. He might not be ready to stay dry overnight while he’s sleeping, but he’s absolutely ready to handle a quick pee break on his own. This is why God invented overnight training pants. Make him use the potty right before you say goodnight, give him a clear and safe path out of his room and to the bathroom. (Obviously I’m assuming he’s out of a crib at this age/stage, but if not it’s DEFINITELY big-kid bed time once you’re at this point in potty training.) Put a nightlight in the bathroom too so he doesn’t need to turn on a light. If he continues to stall outside of his room after going to the bathroom, you may need to escort him back to bed, but do it without saying A WORD. Just a gentle guide back to bed. No extra goodnight kisses or potty praise or extra attention.
Usually, toddlers lose interest in these games pretty quickly once the bonus Mommy/Daddy attention piece gets taken away. Teach him to pee more or less independently whenever he says he has to go during the day (“Thanks for telling me you have to go! Great job. You know where the potty is, better get there quick!”) and then make it clear you’re expecting the same at night. If you have to go, you go. Mommy/Daddy will be over here on the couch, because that’s just not my business anymore.