How To Discipline Your Children When They Get Out of Bed at Night


Children under six years old are famous for piping up with late-night requests for books, kisses, milk, or getting in bed with their parents. Remember that your child’s need for sleep is very important. She probably wants those ten books and four drinks to keep you near her, so teach her that going to sleep will bring you back to her bedside faster than demanding attention.

Note: If you’re not sure whether your child needs something or merely wants your attention (if she’s not talking yet or if she cries out instead of Asking for something), go check on her. If all is medically sound, give her a quick kiss and hug (thirty seconds maximum) and make your exit. Tell her firmly and lovingly that it’s time for sleep, not play.

Sleeping Child

Preventing the Problem

Discuss bedtime rules at a non-bedtime time.

Set limits for how many drinks of water or trips to the toilet your child may have at bedtime. Tell her these rules at a neutral time, so she’s aware of what you expect her to do when bedtime comes. Say, “You can take two books to bed and have one drink, and I’ll tell you two stories before you hit the sack.” If your child likes to get in bed with you, decide before she arrives whether your rules allow that. It’s up to parents to decide whether they want their children in their bed.

Promise rewards for following the rules.

Make your child aware that following the rules, not breaking them, will ring her rewards. Say, “When you’ve stayed in your bed all night (if that’s your rule), then you may choose your favorite story to read in the morning.” Rewards could include special breakfasts, trips to the park, favorite games, or anything else you know is enjoyable for your child.

Reinforce the idea of going back to sleep.

Remind your child of bedtime rules as you put her in bed, to strengthen er memory of previous discussions.

Solving the Problem

What to Do

Follow through with consequences for breaking the rules

Make breaking the rules more trouble than it’s worth. For example, if your child breaks a rule by asking for more than two drinks, go to her bedside and say, “I’m sorry you got out of bed and broke the two-drink rule. Now you must have your door closed, as we said” (if that’s what you said you would do if she asked for more drinks of water).

Stand firm with your rules.

Enforce the rule every time your child breaks it, to teach her that you mean what you say. For example, when you put your child back in her bed after she gets in bed with you (in violation of your rule), say, “I’m sorry that you got in bed with us. Remember the rule: Everyone sleeps in her own bed. I love you. See you in the morning.”

Follow through with rewards.

Teach your child to trust you by always making good on your promises of rewards for following the rules.

What Not to Do

Don’t neglect to enforce the rules.

Once you’ve set the rules, don’t change them unless you discuss this first with your child. Every time you neglect to consistently enforce the rules, your child learns to keep trying to get what she wants, even though you’ve said no,

Don’t give in to noise.

If your child screams because you enforced a rule about going to sleep, remind yourself that she’s learning an important health lesson: Nighttime is for sleeping. Time how long your child cries, and chart the progress you’re making in getting her not to resist sleep. If you don’t respond to the noise, the crying time should gradually decrease and eventually disappear.

Don’t use threats and fear.

Threats such as, “If you get out of bed, the lizards will get you,” or, “If you do that one more time, I’m going to whip you,” will only increase the problem. Unless you back them up, threats are meaningless noises. Fear may keep your child in bed, but the fear may grow until your child becomes afraid of many things.

Don’t talk to your child from a distance.

Yelling threats and rules from another room teaches your child to yell, and it tells her you don’t care enough to talk to her face to face.

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Filed Under: Family & Relationships

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About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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