“Help! My child fights bedtime.”
One of the most common reasons a child will fight bedtime is that the child is overtired.
This often coincides with a nap transition, when your child is ready to drop a nap. Their body simply needs some time to adjust to a little less sleep than it’s been used to. Or, it could be that you can’t get your child into bed until later than usual because of family commitments, such as picking up late from day care after a long day at work. In any case, you might find that at bedtime your child starts out stalling, asking for just one more ‘everything’. This might progress to pleading or whining until finally it ends in tears or even a full-blown tantrum. Your child might get out of bed and come out to you a million times. You are no doubt understandably exhausted and at your wits end and you might even start to get cross. You might even give in and let your child go to sleep on the couch or sleep in your bed. What to do?
- Get your child into bed early if you can. If you get home late, your child might have to have a ‘cheats dinner’ of eggs, beans, toast and yoghurt. Then offer a quick shower with you instead of a bath (or even miss this step) and only one story instead of three, before lights out.
- Pre-empt any requests. Place a water bottle with a small amount of water in it, next to the bed and tell your child when it’s gone there’s no more. If your child uses toileting as a delay tactic, have two ‘passes’ they can use and when they’re used there’s no more.
- Stick to your guns and enforce your boundaries around sleep after lights out. Decide on your non-negotiables and logical consequences for not following the bedtime rules. The rules “lie down, close your eyes and be as quiet as a mouse” are easy for a young child to ‘do’ and they often naturally lead to sleep. Have your child help you make a chart that acts as a visual reminder of what is expected. A reward chart can also help.
- Be consistent with your routine and with how you deal with any unwanted behaviours around bedtime. Children learn from repetition and consistency.
- Keep bedtime calm, low key and ‘boring’. Getting cross and raising your voice or pleading with your child to stay in bed just adds fuel to the fire. Children thrive on attention, even if it’s negative attention. They want you to react. Staying calm and keeping stimulation to a minimum, is key.
- Be patient. If your child gets out of bed, silently march them back. You might have to do this many times on the first night but the next night should be less, and so on. Being patient doesn’t mean ‘giving in’ to your child’s every whim. It means being in it for the long haul if you need to. Change takes time.
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