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Bedtime Issues : How To Fix Your Evenings

Tracy and Brad were experiencing problems with their two boys, aged 7 and 5 years, at bedtime. The boys came up with all the excuses in the world as to why they didn’t need to go to bed from not being tired to needing an extra hug!

Does this sound like something you have heard in your house?

children watching tv at night

Poor Tracy was exhausted by this as she was often on her own at bedtime for the boys. She was up and down the stairs all evening, going between the boys and their various requests. By the time Brad walked in the door Tracy was very stressed and the boys were still awake.

The next morning seemed to be a re-run of the problem, only the other way as the boys refused to get up, complaining they were tired. Tracy said she had lost count of the times she had explained to them why they were tired and frustrated that it didn’t make any difference to their behaviour that evening! This was always more of a problem after the school holidays! 

Tracy and Brad are not alone, in fact 40% of children have a problem going to sleep and become extremely clever at avoiding/delaying bedtime, at some stage of their childhood. 

Before we assume that bedtime problems are ‘not normal’ or a result of ‘slack parents’ we need to think about the different developmental ages of children and how this affects their bedtime performances!

Bedtime fears and troubles through child development 

When children are between 12 months and 30 months they may find it difficult to separate from their parents at anytime, not just bedtime. Around 2-3 years old children start to worry what will happen to their parents when they go to sleep. This is especially important to children who may have experienced waking up and their parents not coming to reassure them. This could be a result of Parenting styles, different carers e.g. Grandparents or babysitters. 

I also have a number of clients who have foster children who have never had the chance of forming a real bond with a carer in their early months of life. Some of these children find separating at anytime difficult, let alone going to sleep. 

As children get older, about 5 or 6 years old they start to imagine monsters might come into their room in the dark. 

Once at school children might have worries that keep them awake, or watching the TV, playing video-games or playing rough games too soon to bedtime may overstimulate them and they simply can’t calm down! 

Tracy, Brad and I went through all these scenarios and none of them seemed to fit their boys, so therefore we needed to think more about what else might be going on in the household.

Building Bedtime Habits 

We discussed what time the boys went to bed and it appeared that it depended on what was happening that evening, if it was a school night or not and if friends were visiting. 

The children never seemed to want to go to bed and evenings were often a battle, sometimes the boys would fall asleep on the lounge and be carried into bed, only to bounce back to their energetic selves the minute their parents sat down! 

Together we decided that there needed to be more consistency and structure around the evening to enable the boys to have a clear message concerning bedtime. 

We also talked about general limiting setting and boundaries that surrounded the boys daily.

Tracy stated that the eldest boy had frequently has temper tantrums when he was about 2 and they thought he would ‘’grow out of them’’. Unfortunately that had not happened and before they knew it the younger son started to copy these tantrums! The tantrums got worse and before long it seemed that if the boys were asked to do anything that they didn’t want to do a tantrum followed, with Tracy giving in as dealing with them both was just exhausting.

Therefore we developed some new strategies for them to put into place to help the boys understand boundaries. Next a bedtime routine was developed, and carried out consistently, in order that the boys got used to the signals that came before bed time. 

For example, teatime, into the bath and then P’J’s, followed by quiet play, no more TV, a warm drink, teeth cleaned and into bed. Although a time for bed is important, eg bed by 7pm, the routine around bedtime is more important when trying to change habits and create new structure. When they were in bed Tracy would read them one story each, and no more… matter how many pleads!

couple cooking at night

Bundaries and Control at Bedtime

If either of the boys got out of bed to come to ask for something they were to be given minimal attention and taken straight back to bed, tucked in and told "goodnight". 

Children really don’t need a drink, or to keep needing the loo, just remembered something important to tell you, or even "just one more kiss". The minute you give in to one of these they will do it again and again!

Tracy and Brad agreed to try this for two weeks, to back each other up and return to see me to tell me how they were getting on. It works! 

They returned two weeks later and things were feeling more manageable, not perfect, but a lot better. They had taken a long hard look at what was happening at home and could see how their inconsistency between what each other allowed the boys to do, and lack of routine had contributed to the bedtime problems. 

Tracy was finding it easier to be firm with the boys now she felt more in control. She was making sure they had a ten minute warning before it was time to have a bath and start the night time routine. After that it didn’t matter what excuses they came up with, she stuck to what she said! 

Boys will be boys and they tried all sorts of tricks, but she won and most evenings by the time Brad got home the boys were having their story. He agreed that he wouldn’t get them all excited again; if he did then he had to take over and settle them whilst Tracy went to sit down for a well deserved rest!

Try It Yourself 

If you are having problems like this at home, try the above, stick to it for 3 weeks and you should see a difference. If not, come and see me and we will try and work something out! Remember you are the boss, not the children, so what you say should go! Good Luck. 


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