• Dr Martine Prunty

GO TO BED NOW!


Sound familiar? It is one of the most common power struggles parents have with their children, whether they’re five or fifteen. Some kids just don’t want to go to bed at night. Some common reasons include not wanting to miss out on something fun, being afraid of the dark, afraid they might not wake up or just wanting to be in control. Here are some tips:

Manage your expectations

Realize that the problem-solving skills of younger kids are less evolved; they often have problems with impulsivity and frustration control. If going to bed is frustrating for them, it’s likely that their behavior is going to escalate into an unpleasant situation. So the first rule is, don’t make bedtime unpleasant. Make no mistake, I’m not saying make it pleasant by talking sweet or bribing them. I’m saying don’t make it unpleasant by looking for an argument. Don’t make it into a self-fulfilling prophecy and expect them to fight with you because that’s what they’ve done in the past.

Incentives

Use some kind of reward system for the different behaviours involved in going to sleep, eg a star chart. Across the top of the chart, you make a row for every day of the week. Across the bottom, you make lines. On the top line you write whatever actions are involved in your night time routine eg, “Goes to toilet” “Brushes teeth” “Goes to his room and gets into bed without an argument.” And in some cases you might want to put, “Shuts off light in half-an-hour.” (for older children). For each behaviour completed he gets a star. But let’s say he doesn’t go to his room appropriately. Then he gets a dot. Your child has two ways to get rewarded here: if they get a certain percentage of stars each day, they get a reward, and if it’s weekly, they get it that weekend. The reward on the weekend has to be something special with an adult. Like they go have an ice cream cone with dad, or go to a movie with both parents. The daily reward might be an extra story at bedtime. The reason we do it incrementally is that your child almost always has a chance to succeed and can almost always start over. So you won’t have him saying, “I’ve already ruined my day, why should I try?” On a star chart, kids never lose. If they don’t accomplish a certain goal, they don’t lose a star—they just don’t gain one.

Other behaviors can be reinforced this way, too – staying quiet after lights are out, not getting out of bed until a certain time, etc. can all be reinforced with incentives. Remember that preschoolers usually need more immediate rewards.

Firm Limits

It can be challenging when your kids try to get that one last thing in before going to bed, e.g. “Just one more cartoon? Just one more story?” Make sure you set firm limits and don’t overindulge them; this also means that you won’t have to try and figure out if you should give in or not with each request. If the request is not within the limits, then the request isn’t granted.

Routines

Routines help children feel secure and will hopefully make them less likely to push the limits as they try to figure out if things are going to be the same or not. You can even make a big poster or chart with all of the bedtime activities listed in order for your child to look at.

Having quiet time before bedtime should always be part of any preschooler’s routine. Not using screens (eg ipads) for half an hour before bedtime is important. Studies have shown that people produce 55% less melatonin when using ipads at night – this is the hormone that makes us feel tired!! Children take longer to fall asleep without adequate melatonin production and have less REM sleep.

Going to bed can be a work in progress. The aim is to make it just another part of the day, not an anxiety provoking end of day.

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