Children being ‘difficult’ at bedtimes is a near-universally shared parental experience.
However, there are things you can do about it.
Why young children don’t want to go to bed
Imagine a scenario where you’re having great fun. Perhaps it’s still daylight, you’re chatting away and maybe watching a bit of TV. Then suddenly, someone comes up and tells you to go to bed. You might not be too happy and there’s no reason to assume that kids feel any different!
Of course, you’re not a child and nobody disputes the fact that children need a healthy amount of sleep and a certain routine around it. However, before thinking about solutions, you’ll need to identify the problem.
In reality, the above example is only one and there may be many reasons your child or children don’t want to go to bed:
- they’re enjoying being up and there is too much else going on – such as older siblings playing, the TV is on etc.;
- the child is simply not tired. Children need very different amounts of sleep from each other and basing your bedtime routine exclusively on the averages shown in books may be an issue;
- they are afraid of being left alone and away from their parents;
- possibly they suffer from bad dreams at times and somehow fear sleep as a result;
- it is simply a way of seeing just how far they can push their embryonic independence levels;
- they have learned that ‘being difficult at bedtime’ is the way things should be – this usually comes from siblings or other children chatting in pre or primary school;
- physically, bedtime is an issue for them. This is rare but it’s possible they may be eating too late or have an allergy that flares up when they go to bed at night.
Diagnosing the causes
There is really no easy way to do this. A lot requires knowing your child and if they’re old enough, being able to discuss why they don’t want to go to bed.
Trying to identify why young children don’t like bedtime in the context of your specific child, is likely to be something that demands a lot of time and patience.
There are a few general diagnostic-type points worth considering:
- does this only happen on certain days of the week? If so, what is the common denominator – a TV show they like? Perhaps it’s the night when your partner has to work late and isn’t there to say goodnight?
- is going to bed more or less of an issue depending upon which partner is taking the turn? Perhaps one is considered a ‘softer touch’ for stories and the like;
- is the duration of the trouble fixed? In other words, if you put them down at 8pm, do the objections always last for say 30 minutes, after which they go to sleep?
- are they happier if you leave their bedroom door open?
- do they complain at night of bellyaches, feeling sick and so on?
- are their objections related to what time they’re fed – i.e. are they more difficult if they’ve had a later evening meal?
By using these sorts of questions and answers from your own observations, you might be able to home in on what the causes are and what to do about them.
Some generic tips
These are things that might be worth considering:
- put your child in charge of their own bedtime (within reason!). Give them a very limited time range and encourage them to tell you that it is time for their bed – that way it’s their idea, not yours;
- don’t allow your child to eat larger meals close to their bedtime;
- make going to bed a fun and game-like experience. Yes, that involves plenty of stories and calming ones at that;
- avoid trying to make your child go to bed and sleep if they’re just not tired. If they look healthy and fine the following day, be prepared to be a little flexible;
- be similarly flexible around reading in bed. Forbid computers and phones but let them read books to calm them down and to help them to drift off. Going to bed and reading isn’t the same as being put to bed and told to go to sleep;
- if your child is showing physical symptoms regularly at bedtime, that may be psychology at play or it could be a condition related to allergies or similar. Ask a doctor to check sooner rather than later;
- ensure your child gets regular and significant physical exercise every day;
- demand that older siblings cooperate. Music or games sounds from the next-door bedroom are not likely to encourage your younger child to settle down!
Above all, be patient. Young children not liking bedtime is usually a short-lived phase.