Bedtime “Badtimes”

Photography © by Paul Johnson

Dear Dr. Ray,

Our four-year-old daughter fights going to bed nearly every night. We are exhausted and to the point where we allow her to stay up as long as she wants. Help! ― No good nights

How to Avoid Bedtime Conflict with your Children

The word “fight” means different things to different kids. To Eve, a bedtime fight means lying in bed nagging and whining until either you or she wears down. To Dawn, bedtime is not a real fight until she has to be pushed into the bedroom with a bulldozer, only to chew her way out through the wall six minutes later.

Since bedtime battlers fall on a continuum from soft to major league, we’ll cover strategies to deal with the whole range. Today, we’ll quiet the Eves of this world. Next time, we’ll lay to rest the Dawns.

Just what is it about sleep that arouses kids so much? Some don’t want to miss a thing; they know the real fun starts after they’re in bed. Others consider nighttime boring; they just sleep through it. Still others don’t want to be apart from the folks ― really.

The most straightforward approach to easing bedtime badtimes is to reexamine Eve’s bedtime. Like grownups, kids need differing amounts of sleep. Unfortunately, none need nineteen hours. It may be that pushing your daughter’s bedtime back a half hour or so would put it more in “sync” with her biological clock, making her more ready to wind down and less ready to battle. Of course, if she’s a quartz model and doesn’t slow until 3:00 A.M., there are limits to your flexible bedtime.

Bedtime rituals also can help ease kids into sleep. Brush teeth together; tell each other a story; ask your daughter what she’d like to dream about; say prayers together; talk about the chocolate cake you’re having for breakfast ― just kidding. In essence, you’re pairing good time with bedtime. Some kids will actually tolerate, even enjoy, going to bed if it means getting your undivided attention for ten to fifteen minutes prior. I once knew a kid who begged for morning and afternoon naps just to have a chance to repeat the nightly routine.

The above ideas won’t work for all kids. Sometimes all the savvy parenting in the world can’t circumvent the need for firmness. Let’s say that little Petula battles bedtime mostly through words and whining. She nags for twelve drinks of water, six bathroom trips, complains about the position of her stuffed animals, and pleads for every known relative to rescue her. Seldom will she leave her room, however. She may wander over to the doorway, but she won’t venture out. Thus, she can still be considered in the mild resister range. I know, that’s easy for me to say. I live in another state. To quiet her nightly monologue, work at becoming oblivious to it. No matter how much she drones, don’t go near her bedroom. There’s no way she can be afraid of the dark. Two 650-watt floodlights are illuminating her room and half the backyard. Seven dead bolt locks anchor the closet door; no monster could ever get out of that closet. A 55-gallon drum of juice is sitting next to her bed, with a Porta-John beside that. She could live up there for six weeks if she had to.

So what happens the first night you don’t answer the pleas? After forty-five minutes of nonstop wailing, Petula checks her watch, “Hmm, 9:15, where’s Mom? She’s usually up here ten or twelve times by now. Oh well, I’d better start knocking stuff off the dresser.” Stand firm. Get out of earshot if you have to. Turn up the television. Crawl under the basement steps. Park the car at the end of the street and take a nap in the back seat. But don’t give in. Even if you answer only once every six nights, you’ll just prolong Petula’s stamina. No question, it’s hard to be resolute. It’s even harder to battle at bedtime every night.

There’s a bright side to hearing your daughter ceaselessly plead, “Let me stay up later.” At least she’s at home. Twelve years from now, she won’t be home when she calls you ceaselessly pleading, “Let me stay out later.”


Dr. Ray Guarendi is a father of 10, clinical psychologist, author, public speaker and radio host. His radio show, “The Doctor Is In, can be heard weekdays. His latest book is Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards. Visit Dr. Ray’s website at: www.drray.com.


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About the Author

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a father of 10, clinical psychologist, author, public speaker and radio host. His radio show ― "The Doctor Is In" ― can be heard weekdays. Please see our radio affiliate listings (Ave Maria Radio & EWTN Radio) for a station in your area. You can also listen live online or on Sirius satellite radio, channel 160. Dr. Ray's experience includes school districts, Head Start programs, mental health centers, substance abuse programs, inpatient psychiatric centers, juvenile courts, and a private practice. Dr. Ray has been a regular guest on national radio and television, including Oprah, Joan Rivers, Scott Ross Prime Time, 700 Club, Gordon Elliot, and CBS This Morning. He's appeared on regional radio and television shows in over 40 states and Canada. He has been the program psychologist for Cleveland's Morning Exchange, Pittsburgh 2-Day, and AM Indiana. He has written several books, including Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime, You’re a Better Parent Than You Think!, now in its twenty-fifth printing, Back to the Family, Good Discipline, Great Teens, Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It and his newest book, Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards.

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1 Comment

  1. One of the reasons the sleep resisters can succeed in getting Mom or Dad to come back into the room is because the parents really do fear that the child is injuring herself or something else.

    The best tool for helping parents resist the re-entry mode is a live baby monitor camera so you can see what she is actually doing and be assured that she is still alive. You don’t even have to let the child know the camera is there. When our children were small we did not have this luxury, but those same children have now survived their own strong-willed children with the help of those monitor cameras.

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