7 Discipline Strategies for Bedtime Behavior Problems

Use these discipline strategies to reduce bedtime behavior problems.
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Whether your child refuses to go to bed or they insist on sleeping in your room, bedtime behavior problems are common. Without appropriate intervention, they can grow worse.

Not only are bedtime behavior problems frustrating, but they also interfere with your child's sleep. Missing a few minutes of shut-eye can be a big problem for kids.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to everything from increased academic issues to elevated behavior problems.

What can you do to solve bedtime woes? Here are some strategies that can help put an end to bedtime behavior problems fast.

Establish Bedtime Rules

Create bedtime rules that outline your expectations. Establish a time for your child to start getting ready for bed and make it clear what time the lights will go out.

Teenagers may be able to handle more flexibility for bedtime. Older teens should be able to start setting their own bedtime, as long as they're able to get out of bed on time all on their own.

Create Healthy Bedtime Habits

Promote healthy habits to help your child wind down and get ready for bed. One way to do this is to limit screen time before bed. Watching TV, playing video games, or using a computer before bed interferes with a child’s sleep cycle.

Although many parents turn on the TV to help a child fall asleep, a 2013 study published in Pediatrics found that watching TV actually delays sleep in children.

  • Avoid scary programs. Watching anything scary on TV before bed can also contribute to nightmares in children. Monitor what your child watches throughout the day and pay special attention to anything your child is exposed to during the evening hours.
  • Be cautious of news programs. Allowing your child to overhear the evening news can be problematic. Hearing stories about accidents, natural disasters, and tragedies can frighten children and contribute to bad dreams.
  • Skip screen time before bed. Don’t allow your child to watch TV, play video games, or use the computer within an hour of bedtime.

Instead, encourage quiet activities like reading or playing to help your child wind down before they begin getting ready for bed. Discuss the benefits of sleep and why it is important for your child's growing body.

Problem-Solve Issues Together

If your child has difficulty sleeping, problem-solve together. For example, if your child refuses to stay in their own bed, talk about the reasons why they get up so often. You may find that your child is lacking some self-soothing skills or they might not know how to handle boredom.

One common underlying problem that contributes to bedtime behavior problems is fear.

If your child is scared of monsters hiding under the bed or noises coming from the closet, sometimes creative solutions can help. A nightlight, stay-away monster spray, or playing games to help your child overcome fears may be helpful.

Shape Your Child’s Behavior When Necessary

Sometimes behavior problems need to be addressed one step at a time. If your child has slept in your bed every night for four years, it may be too overwhelming for them to start sleeping in their own room upstairs all by themself all at once. You may need to make the transition more slowly:

  • Try having your child begin by taking a nap in their own bed.
  • Or let them sleep on their own mattress in your room for a few nights before moving them to their own bed.
  • Small steps can be particularly helpful if you’ve got a child who is resistant to change.

Respond to Behavior Problems Consistently

When bedtime behavior problems arise, consistent discipline is essential. If your child calls out repeatedly to tell you they're not tired, ignore this behavior until it stops. If you respond to them after 10 minutes of ignoring, you’ll teach them that yelling long enough gets your attention.

If you give in and let your child sleep in your bed on the weekends, they'll try to climb in your bed for the rest of the week, too. So it's important to send a consistent message that says, "I expect you to sleep in your own room."

You need to be consistent with your discipline every single time until the behavior stops.

You may need to institute logical consequences from time to time. An earlier bedtime the following night or the removal of privileges may motivate your child to make better choices next time. 

Reward Good Behavior

Reward systems can be effective ways to promote good bedtime behavior. Some options include:

  • Sticker charts work well for preschoolers.
  • Older children may benefit from other simple rewards, such as earning an extra 15 minutes of computer time.
  • Token economy systems can also be effective at addressing bedtime behavior problems. Allow a child to earn a token for staying in bed all night or getting into bed on time that can later be exchanged for larger rewards.

Seek Professional Help When Necessary

Your child's bedtime issues can be frustrating. It might interfere with your sleep or the few minutes of quiet time you enjoy before going to bed.

When your child is giving you a hard time about going to sleep, keep the bigger picture in mind. It's likely a phase that will pass with time.

Most bedtime behavior problems aren’t a sign of anything serious. Usually, developing a healthy bedtime routine can help resolve the issue successfully.

Occasionally, however, bedtime behavior problems can be symptoms of bigger problems. A sleep disorder or mental health problem may contribute to bedtime behavior problems. If your child’s behaviors don’t improve with a change in discipline, talk to your child’s pediatrician to rule out any underlying issues.

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