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Child Behavior Problems: Bedtime Woes, Why Won’t She Stay in Bed?

by Dr. Noel Swanson.

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.

One out of three children just refuses 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!

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.

Then, when it comes to lights out, be firm and calm. Make it clear that you expect them to stay in bed. Leave the door open or a night-light on if they need that. You could also put on some gentle, soothing music if they respond well to that.

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.

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:

First, send them firmly back to bed. Don’t shout; just make it clear you mean business. Then remind them that you WILL be up to tuck them in again, but it won’t be until the timer says so, and now you are going to have to restart the timer as they got out of bed. Having done that, ignore them until the time for your next check.

Remember to reward your child for staying nicely in bed. Make a star chart or something similar to encourage him.

About the Author:

Dr. Noel Swanson, Consultant Child Psychiatrist and author of The GOOD CHILD Guide, specializes in children's behavioural difficulties and writes a free newsletter for parents. He can be contacted through his website on Expert Parenting Advice.

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