Dealing with Bedtime Struggles
Bedtime struggles are a common problem with toddlers and preschoolers. It can be exhausting and frustrating when your child refuses to go to bed at the end of a long day. The good news is that there is usually a solution. The key is figuring out what the problem is and why your child is refusing to go to bed. Even though it might be a daily struggle that most children do, there can be a different reason on different nights with different children.
Here are some common reasons for bedtime struggles and why your child may not be going to bed, what you can do and finally general guidelines to peaceful bedtime.
1.Rushed or Chaotic Bedtime, if bedtime is rushed or loud it can be hard for your child to go from playing to falling asleep in a few minutes. Other distractions like the TV being on or older siblings playing in another room are a constant reminder to your child that others are still up and “playing”. Naturally, he still wants to be a part of that and will refuse to go to bed or will find it hard to fall asleep.
- What you can do:
make sure you give bedtime the time it deserves. It might be tough after a long day but making time before bedtime can save you a lot of time and energy and help you avoid the power struggle at bedtime. Make sure bedtime is a quiet time, give your child some notice that bedtime is near, try to establish a bedtime routine to prepare your child for bed. Turn off the TV and put away all toys in the last hour before bedtime. Dim the lights and try to have the family do quiet activities like reading. Make sure that bedtime is as boring as possible.
2. Your Child doesn’t want to Go or Stay in Bed, If your child doesn’t want to go to bed he may be distracted by other sounds in the house or just not exhausted enough to go to bed.
- What you can do:
Like the example above, make sure bedtime is a quiet time. If your child keeps on bouncing in and out of bed and is full of energy, he might not be getting enough activity during the day to tire him out. Make sure he gets enough physical activity during the day, scale back daytime naps or wake him up a bit earlier in the morning. Remember that quiet time is important. If your child is very active before bedtime make sure to give him some extra time to wind down. Don’t turn bedtime into a power struggle, if your child keeps getting out of bed simply put him back into bed, wait a few minutes and assure him you will be back to check on him in a few minutes. Check on your child from the doorway every few minutes and tell him what a good job he’s doing falling asleep. After a few times when he feels safe and reassured he’ll start to fall asleep.
3.Your child won’t go to sleep alone, Your child may also find it difficult to sleep alone and may need some extra comfort to go to bed. He might not want to fall asleep on his own because he feels insecure. At this age children have a very active imagination and shadows and sounds can be scary.
- What you can do:
Encourage your child to fall asleep alone. You can help him feel secure by giving him a favorite comfort object like a stuffed animal to sleep with. You can leave a night light on or keep the bedroom door open. If your child is afraid of “monsters under the bed” take these fear seriously and play along by “kicking the monsters out” of the room. This can sometimes be more effective than saying that there are no such things as monsters. Remember to start with a calming bedtime routine. You can also promise your child to check in on him every few minutes like the example above.
4. Your Child wakes up during the night,most children wake up during the night and fall back asleep. If your child is having difficult falling back asleep during the night it might be because he is too stressed by the time his cries reach you. Usually by the time a child’s cries reach the parent he’s already gone through a series of anxious reactions. The initial part of waking up and being alone, then waiting for the parent’s attention, then probably some mild stress and crying which would be easier to comfort then finally full stressful cries that reach the parent. By this time can make it more difficult for him to calm down quickly.
- What you can do: If you want you can give your child access to get out of bed and come to you during the night. If your child wakes up during the night and needs reassurance he can simply come over to your room and will usually fall asleep without too much fuss. If you can’t do that then try to install a baby monitor so you can hear his initial cries, give him a couple of minutes to settle himself back to sleep. If you feel he is reaching that stressful point then try to go comfort him. You can first try by just being at the doorway so your child doesn’t try to get out of bed and offer reassurance that you are there and can hear him. If that isn’t comforting enough then try standing by your child’s bed, offer reassurance and remind him softly that it’s time for bed. It will take a few times till your child develops a pattern of secure experiences and feels OK when he wakes up alone.
Suggested Bedtime Routine
- Try to have a similar routine every night. Not only is the routine important but it’s important to stick to the time schedule so that your child’s biological clock gets used to it. Remember that your child is still growing so his sleep routines and patterns will need adjusting. He may need to wake up earlier or need to stop napping to sleep through the night.
- Give your child a heads up that bedtime is after your last evening activity; dinner, playtime, etc.
- Make sure the TV is off and the house is quiet within the hour before bedtime. Most importantly make sure you are calm and not rushed. Children can pick up easily on adults’ emotions.
- You can give a warm bath or read a story in bed before bedtime to calm down your child. Each child is different, you need to figure out which activity calms your child best.
- Spend a few minutes next to your child just lying there. Make sure bedtime is as boring as possible. Put away any toys or distractions from the bed. You can try humming some songs or softly speaking to your child about his day. This can help him relax and fall asleep.
- Make sure your child has his favorite security toy next to him in case he wakes up or leave the door open. Use which ever method you choose that works best to help him fall back asleep. If you don’t mind letting him come to your bed at night then make sure he can easily get out of his own bed and walk to your room if he wakes up.
- Remember be consistent and patient. If you give in that sends a message to your child that if he whines or cries long enough then he gets his way. It can be hard and exhausting, try to approach each day with a new perspective, there could be a different reason why he’s having trouble going to bed. Figuring out the problem can help you save time and energy to avoid a power struggle and bedtime tears.
Suggested Bedtime Reading
Goodnight moon is a classic and the perfect book for bedtime. Say goodnight to everything in little rabbit’s room; the mittens, the mouse, the porridge and the moon. You can include your own goodnights to things in your child’s own room or people who were with you in your day.
Photo from isayx3
Article reference from Mayo Clinic