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Child Behavior Problems: My Child Won’t Go to Bed!

By Dr. Noel Swanson

It is often difficult to get your child to go to bed for two reasons. One, the child is in no mood to give up the activity and go to the quiet lonely bedroom and be deprived of the fun. Secondly, by the end of the day you are so tired that you long for some quiet moments all to yourself. Both of you are justified and that is where the clash of interest begins. The result is your child throws up a tantrum or comes up with some demand or the other that can postpone bedtime.

One out of three children just refuses to go to bed before their parents!

So, if you are in that situation, here are some pointers that might help:

To begin with, you have to assess how much sleep your child needs. Though children under 12 usually need about 10 to 12 hours sleep, there are exceptions that need much less sleep. Plus, the need for sleep keeps decreasing as they grow. Younger kids need more than older ones. Now, if your child can function well enough on, say, 6 or 8 hours sleep, you cannot force him/her to sleep more than that. Remember, you can’t force sleep on yourself, then why expect the child to fall asleep when you want it happen?

Once you have established a reasonably bedtime, you then need to decide that you are going to stick to it! Kids will exploit any weakness. If they see a chance to manipulate you into giving them an extra hour they will use any and every tactic they can think of to wrangle that from you: they will ask for a drink, say they are scared, need to pee, ask a question, anything, in fact, that might get you to feel guilty or sorry for them so that they can either stay up later, get more attention, or get to sleep in your bed. Don’t give in.

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.

All this is fine, but if the child gets out of bed, or calls for your attention, then you need to judge the situation calmly. If the need is genuine, cater to it without giving them too much attention so that it doesn’t become a routine affair.

You could use a timer and tell your child that you will be up to check on them after five or ten minutes only if he stays in bed. Start with five minutes and gradually increase to ten minutes. Make sure you go up to check on him and praise him for staying in bed quietly. But don’t linger on. Just tuck him up quietly, give a kiss, and leave.

If necessary you can repeat this procedure, at gradually lengthening intervals, until they are asleep. Yes, it sounds like lot of work at first, but do this consistently and they will learn to stay in bed for longer and longer periods of time. Eventually they will learn to fall asleep before you next come to check on them.

Remember to be positive by praising your child for staying quietly in bed. Also, be very particular about keeping your promise by going to check exactly at the time fixed. This is where the timer comes in handy.

If they get up before your next check, do the following:

Send him firmly back to bed. No need to shout or get angry, just let it be known that you mean business. Tell him you will come up again but after ten minutes, which will be counted from the beginning. Make your point clear and then ignore him until the time for your next check.

Always remember to reward your child for success in staying nicely in bed. You may want to use a star chart or something like that.

Behavior Problems can be solved! To find out how, visit author Dr. Swanson’s Behavior Problems website and take a look at his acclaimed book, The GOOD CHILD Guide.

categories: parenting,child behavior,sleep,children,adoption,fostering,family,toddlers,tantrums

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Swanson, Dr. N. "Child Behavior Problems: My Child Won’t Go to Bed!." Child Behavior Problems: My Child Won’t Go to Bed!. 16 Dec. 2009. 17 Jul 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Swanson, D (2009, December 16). Child Behavior Problems: My Child Won’t Go to Bed!. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Swanson, Dr. N. "Child Behavior Problems: My Child Won’t Go to Bed!"

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