Pediatric Bedtime Problems

Getting a child to go to bed is a common problem that many parents experience. Some children use stalling and excuses to resist going to bed or they go to bed but do not stay there. Bedtime problems can be one of the most frustrating parts of a parent's day. Bedtime problems can occur at any age but are most common between 3 to 6 years old.


What You Can Do to Help Your Child Go to Bed


First of all, it is important to realize that you cannot make a child go to sleep. However, you can help your child improve his or her bedtime behavior and help them to get to sleep more easily and quickly.

  • Stick to firm bedtime limits: The first step is to be convinced that your child needs to change his or her bedtime behavior. Setting and sticking to firm bedtime limits is in everyone's best interests. Limits relieve anxiety in children. Be prepared for some hard work. Changing behavior is always difficult. Your child is probably happy with bedtime the way it is and so will initially have little motivation to change. You need to be consistent and persistent.
  • Explain the new rules to your child: Before you start the new nighttime program, sit down with your child during the day and let him or her know what you expect. Ignore any negative comments by your child and avoid arguing about the new rules.
  • Set bedtime: Once you have decided on your child's bedtime, be consistent about it. Establish a regular bedtime to help set your child's internal clock. Be sure that your child is ready for sleep before putting him or her to bed.
  • Bedtime fading: Putting your child to bed when he or she is not tired increases the likelihood of bedtime struggles. For some children, it is best to start by setting the bedtime at the time they usually fall asleep and gradually make the bedtime earlier. This will make it easier to teach your child how to fall asleep within a short time of getting into bed.
  • Bedtime routine: Be sure to establish a consistent bedtime routine. A bedtime routine should include calm and enjoyable activities, such as a bath and bedtime stories. Avoid stimulating high-energy activities, such as playing outside, running around or watching exciting television shows or videos. Make a chart of your bedtime routine to help keep your child on track.
  • Ignore complaints or protests: Ignore your child's complaints or protests about bedtime, like not being tired. Discussing or arguing about bedtime will lead to a struggle with your child.
  • Putting your child to bed: When the bedtime routine is complete, put your child to bed and leave the room. It is important that you leave the room while your child is awake.
  • If your child cries or yells: If your child is yelling or calling out to you but remains in bed, remind him or her one time that it is bedtime. If your child continues to be upset, check on your child. Wait for as long or short a time as you wish. Continue returning to check on your child as long as he or she is crying or upset. The visits should be brief and non-stimulating. Calmly tell your child that it's time to go to sleep.
  • What to do if your child gets out of bed or comes out of their room: If your child gets out of bed or comes out of his or her room, firmly and calmly return him or her to bed. For some children, simply returning to bed multiple times works. For others, letting them know that if they get up again, you will close the bedroom door, can be effective.
  • Give your child a bedtime pass: Provide your child with one or two “bedtime passes.” This can be as simple as index cards that have been decorated. Your child can turn in a card to make a request. No more passes means no more requests. This simple system allows children a way to make reasonable requests while maintaining bedtime rules.
  • Don't lock your child in the bedroom: Locking the door may be scary for your child. The goal is to teach your child to stay in bed, not punish or to scare him or her. Also, locking a child in the bedroom can be a safety hazard in an emergency such as a fire.
  • Reward your child: Soon after your child awakens in the morning, reward them for what they did well the night before. Don't dwell on misbehavior from the previous night. Give your attention to your child's successes.
  • Be consistent and don't give up: The first few nights are likely to be very challenging. You should start to see major improvements within the first few weeks.