How to Discipline Your Children When They Resist Bedtime


Active, energetic preschoolers often do anything to avoid sleep. They turn bedtime or naptime into chase time, crying time, or finding-another-book-to-read time to postpone the dreaded bed. No matter what your child may think about the right time to sleep, stand firm with the time you have chosen. However, help your child gradually wind down instead of requiring him to turn off his motor instantly.

Note: Since your child’s need for sleep changes as he gets older, you may need to let him stay up later or shorten his nap as he grows. Children (even ones in the same family) require different amounts of sleep. Your two-year-old may not need the same amount of sleep his older brother did when he was two.

Resist Bedtime

Preventing the Problem

Establish a bedtime routine.

End the day or begin a nap with a special feeling between you and your child by reciting a poem or story as a regular part of the going-to-bed routine. Make the event special so it’s something he can look forward to. Try reciting, “Night night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” or have a talk about the day’s events, even if it’s a one-sided conversation.

Make exercise a daily habit.

Make sure your child gets plenty of exercise during the day, to help his body tell his mind that going to bed is a good idea.

Maintain a fairly regular nap schedule.

Don’t let your child put off napping until late afternoon or evening, and then expect him to go to sleep at eight o’clock. Put him down for naps early enough in the day to make sure he’s tired at bedtime.

Spend time together before bed.

Play with your child before bedtime arrives, to prevent him from fighting bedtime just to get your attention.

Keep bedtime consistent.

Determine how much sleep your child needs by noticing how he acts when he’s taken a nap and when he hasn’t, and when he’s gone to bed at nine o’clock versus seven o’clock. Establish a consistent sleep schedule that meets his needs, and adjust it as he gets older.

Solving the Problem

What to Do

Use a timer to manage the bedtime routine.

An hour before bedtime (or naptime), set the timer for five minutes and announce that the timer will tell your child when it’s time to start getting ready for bed. This avoids surprises and allows him to anticipate the upcoming events. When the timer rings, say, “The timer says it’s time to start getting ready for bed. Let’s take a bath and get into our pajamas.” Then reset the timer for about fifteen minutes and say, “Let’s see if we can beat the timer getting ready.” This gives you the opportunity to praise your child’s efforts at getting himself through the basic bedtime routine.

Make sure you allow enough time for him to get the job done. When the routine is finished, reset the timer for the remainder of the hour you set aside and announce, “You beat the timer. Now you get to stay up and play until the timer rings again and tells us that it’s time to get into bed. Now, let’s set the timer for brushing our teeth, getting a drink, and going potty (if he’s old enough).” The timer routine helps you and your child make a game instead of a struggle out of bedtime.

Follow the same rituals regardless of time.

Even if bedtime has been delayed for some reason, go through the same rituals to help your child learn what’s expected of him when it comes to going to bed. Don’t point out how late he’s stayed up. Quicken the pace by helping him get pajamas on and get a drink, and set the timer for shorter intervals. But don’t omit any steps.

Maintain the same order of events.

Since preschoolers find comfort in consistency, have your child bathe, brush his teeth, and put on his pajamas in the same order every night. Ask him to name the next step in the routine, to make a game out of getting ready for bed and to help him feel as if he’s calling the shots.

Offer rewards for going to bed.

Greet your child upon waking with the good news that going to bed nicely is worthwhile. Say, “Because you got in bed so nicely, I’ll read you an extra story”

Mother Child

What Not to Do

Don’t let your child control bedtime.

Stick with your chosen bedtime despite your child’s resistance. Remember that you know why your child doesn’t want to go to bed, and why he should. Say to yourself, “He’s only crying because he doesn’t want to end his playtime, but I know he’ll play happier later if he sleeps now.”

Don’t threaten or spank.

Threatening or spanking your child to get him into bed can cause nightmares and fears, not to mention making you feel upset and guilty when the behavior persists. Punishing a child doesn’t teach him appropriate behavior. Instead, focus on using a timer as a neutral authority to determine when bedtime arrives.

Don’t be a historian.

Saying, for example, “Because you didn’t go to bed on time last night, you don’t get to watch TV this morning,” doesn’t teach your child how to get into bed on time. Focus on the future instead of the past.

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About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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