What to Do When a Child Won't Go to Bed

son waking sleeping mom - child won't go to bed

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The problem of a child fighting sleep or not going to bed isn’t limited to the baby and toddler years. Refusing to go to bed or having trouble falling asleep can be an all-too-common problem for school-age children as well.

It’s important to address these issues as soon as possible. ​Getting enough sleep and being well-rested is particularly crucial for school-age kids. Without enough sleep, they can experience trouble concentrating, paying attention, and learning. Lack of sleep can also affect kids’ moods, physical development, and even their ability to fight off illness and infections.

Why Your Child May Be Fighting Sleep

If your child is consistently having trouble getting to bed and staying asleep, try to pinpoint the cause. Here are some common reasons why children may be fighting sleep or having difficulty staying asleep.

Kids Have Different Sleep Needs

As with adults, individual children need different amounts of sleep. Some may do just fine on nine hours of sleep a night while other kids need at least 11 or more to feel rested. On average, most school-age children ​need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep. Watch for signs that your child is not getting enough sleep, such as not being able to get up easily in the morning, having difficulty concentrating, or being hyperactive.

Your Child May Not Want to Leave the Excitement

If your child is told that it’s time for bed but the rest of the family—and especially older siblings—are still up and having fun watching videos or talking, your child may feel left out and not want to go to bed.

There Isn’t Enough of a Transition to Bedtime

If kids are revved up from watching videos, playing, or doing homework, it can be tough for them to make a sudden transition to going to bed and falling asleep. You’re likely to have more success getting your child to sleep if you make sure they have some quiet downtime before they go to bed.

They Are Overtired

Between homework, play dates, and after-school activities, school-age children can be up way too late. Being overtired can actually lead to hyperactivity in many kids, which can make it even more difficult to fall asleep at bedtime. If your kids are regularly up past their bedtime working on homework, find ways to manage other after-school activities to make more time for homework, or talk to the teachers about how to help with the workload. You can also try to schedule homework for right after school so that kids finish schoolwork before they have an extracurricular activity.​

They Are Not Tired Enough

If your child is taking a nap late in the afternoon after school, it may be interfering with bedtime. Skip the nap, do schoolwork early, and serve an early dinner so that you can try an earlier bedtime. On weekends or in the summer, make sure your child is active and has a busy day so that they are tired by bedtime.

They Are Asserting Their Growing Independence

School-age kids are constantly flexing their newfound independence muscles, and bedtime can be one of the areas over which they want to exercise control. Try to give choices between specific things as much as possible (“Would you like these pajamas or these other pajamas?” or “Would you like a bubble bath or a bath without bubbles?”), but make bedtime a firm and non-negotiable rule.

They Are Anxious or Stressed About Something

Kids may be worried about something at school like homework, tests, fitting in, or even bullies. They may be anxious about a change or development in their lives such as a new school, making friends, or not having enough time with a parent who is working longer hours. A movie or a book that frightened them or caused anxious thoughts—whether or not it was a scary story—could also interfere with sleep.

Anxiety and worry can interfere with kids’ sleep, just as it can prevent grownups from getting a good night’s rest.

Solutions to Make Bedtime Easier

Try these strategies to make it easier for kids to go to bed and fall asleep at bedtime. If the problem persists, you may want to have your child evaluated by your pediatrician or a sleep specialist.

Set Up a Good Bedtime Routine

You already know that bath and storytime are great ways to get your child settled (something you’ve probably been doing since the toddler days). Having a regular bedtime routine can promote healthy sleep. But also remember to turn off the TV and any other electronics at least an hour before bed. If your child absolutely insists that they are not tired, have them read quietly in their room (or read one or two short chapters to them if your child can't read on their own) or listen to soothing music.

Make Evenings Quiet and Peaceful

Turn off the TV, computer, tablet, and other screens for at least an hour before bed. These activities are stimulating and can interfere with falling asleep and staying asleep. Instead, try playing some soothing music and dim the lights. Have the whole family put on pajamas when your grade-schooler does, putting the entire house into a relaxed mode as bedtime nears.

Have a Consistent Bedtime

Try to keep bedtime consistent, even on the weekends and during the summer. It can be hard to get kids to bed by 9 p.m. when the sun doesn’t begin to set until after 8:30 p.m., but it’s a good idea to prevent bedtime from sliding toward 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., only to have kids adjust to a new sleep schedule once school starts.

Make the Bedroom Comfortable

Get the TV and computer out of the bedroom and make sure it’s not too hot, which can interfere with sleep. If your child doesn’t like the dark, pick out a nightlight together. Try using another area, such as the kitchen table, as a homework workspace so that the bedroom is only for relaxing and sleeping.

Don't Give In

If your child gets up for that third drink of water and fourth trip to the potty, you may be tempted in your exhaustion to let them stay up or to let them sleep in your bed. You may feel guilty about making your child go to bed when they haven’t had a lot of time with you after you’ve come home from work. But if your child doesn't learn how to be restful and fall asleep in their room, you will only be prolonging sleep problems. Have them get back into bed when all their needs are met and tell them that they must stay there. Turn on the night light, leave the door open a crack, and let your child know that you will check on them every few minutes, but tell them that they must stay in bed. And be sure to set up some one-on-one time with them on the weekends when you can do something fun together.

Be gentle, soothing, and calm, but be firm.

Let Go of Expectations

Comparing your child to other kids their age, or expecting them to go to bed promptly and not have any problems simply because they are a big kid now, will only lead to frustration on your part. Instead, work as a team to figure out how you can fine-tune your child's daytime and nighttime routines. Adjust bedtimes and wake-up times gradually to find what works for your child. Be patient. Eventually, you will find a schedule that works for your child and your family.

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Article Sources

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