My Child Won’t Go to Bed!

After a fully-packed day looking after the children, you long for bedtime. But, your child just doesn’t like the idea of going to bed before his parents. This is a common experience of most parents. You want a bit of peace and quiet at the end of a day spent in feeding them, washing clothes, clearing their mess, putting up with temper tantrums, and many other things. You ask them to go to bed, but that’s exactly what they don’t like to do.

But it seems that over a third of children refuse to go to bed before their parents!

So, if your child belongs to that category, here are some pointers that might help:

First, you need to establish how much sleep they actually need. Most children under 12 need about 10 to 12 hours sleep (the younger they are, the more they need). However, some kids just seem to need very little. If that is the case with yours, ie, they genuinely function well on, say, 6 or 8 hours sleep, there is just no point fighting with them to go to bed 4 hours before they need to – all that will happen is they get up four hours earlier and wake you up then, instead!

After a few days you will get a fairly good idea how much is your child’s genuine requirement of sleep. Then make sure he/she gets that much despite all odds. Kids will try to stretch their waking hours and they will keep pulling up one tactic or another to manipulate you to delay bedtime. For instance, they will ask for a drink or some such thing. They have a way of making you feel guilty or sorry for them. Don’t fall into the trap. You have given enough attention to them; now, it is their turn to observe bed time rules.

Once you have established the rules, you must implement them. Make a bedtime routine. It is very important, especially for the younger ones. As I said earlier, you cannot force sleep, but you can create a situation when sleep comes automatically. Follow the same bedtime routine day after day, and start well before the target bedtime leading them through the various steps, such as getting changed, doing teeth and bathroom, reading a story and switching off the lights. It pays to give them your full attention during this routine; they feel comfortable and secure.

The last step of the routine is to put the lights out. You will face strong opposition to it. Be prepared for it, but remain firm and calm. You can allow minor concessions such as leaving the door open or a night-light on if they need that. To soothe the nerves of your child, you could also put on some soft music if that helps.

The real challenge for parents is when the child gets out of bed after all that or calls for your attention. If the reason is genuine, attend to it without giving much attention otherwise he will use this excuse more often.

Children are inventive; they will invent excuses, problems. One way to tackle this is to set a timer and tell them that you will check on them in ten minutes, if they stay in bed. The trick is to begin with a small time and then gradually increase it. Make sure you live by your promise, but don’t overstay. Just come and tuck them in, caress them and leave.

If the child takes very long to sleep you may have to repeat this routine twice or thrice till he falls asleep. You can go on increasing the intervals till he is asleep. In the beginning it will involve a lot of work, but if you do this consistently then they will learn to stay in bed and it will become part of the daily routine.

Make sure you keep it all positive by praising them for staying quietly in bed. And make sure that you fulfill your promise by actually coming and checking on them when you said you would – a good reason to use a timer to remind you!

If your child gets up before your next check, you can do the following:

First, be firm and send him back to bed. Don’t get flustered and don’t shout; just make it clear that you are serious. Then remind him that you will be up to tuck him in again, but after the ten minutes which will start now. Having done that, just ignore him until the time for your next check.

Finally, remember to reward them for success in staying nicely in bed. A star chart or similar works well for this.