My Daughter Refuses to Go to Bed...

Updated on March 22, 2016
J.L. asks from Providence, RI
7 answers

I have a 3 yr. old daughter who is the light of my life. I put my daughter to bed between 8-8:30 every night and she refuses to go to bed. She will continue to call me, get out of bed, cry hysterically, etc. At this time of night I have so much homework to do. After telling her continuously that it's time for bed,I try to ignore her hoping she will eventually go to sleep. Sometimes this works, but other times she doesn't go to sleep until 12 am. I don't know what to do. I tell her that she will not be able to watch tv the next day or play with her toys if she doesn't go to sleep and she says "I don't care." Any suggestions?

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

More Answers



answers from Boston on

How to Push Bedtime Earlier
Getting your child to hit the sheets with no fuss
By Amy Roberts

1. Just do it. If your child can't tell time, don't drag out the process — make the jump in one night, says Kim West, a Maryland clinical social worker and author of Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady's Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy. Even if you've been putting your 3-year-old down at 9 p.m., you might be surprised at how fast he learns to conk out at 7:30. "Kids have a 'sleep window' when they're ready for bed, often hours before what you've been using as their 'bedtime,'" West says. This is where reading your child's sleep signals comes into play.

For a clock-watching grade-schooler, you'll have to explain what you're doing and perhaps be more gradual, moving bedtime up a few minutes at a time.

2. Make it routine. Setting up a regular sequence of events that leads inevitably and irreversibly toward lights-out is the key to a (relatively) fuss-free bedtime. Most kids need a combination of bathing, reading, back rubbing, and/or singing before they'll sleep. Not only will a routine like this calm your child, it's a good nudge: You're not telling your child to go to bed, the routine is. But keep it simple — you'll be doing it every night.

3. Troubleshoot. After a few weeks, reassess. If your child is falling asleep at the new time but still has trouble waking up or acts tired during the day, experiment with an even earlier bedtime. If that doesn't work, and you've cut out caffeine and evening TV, you may want to check with your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder.

Parenting, June 2005

Solve Your Big Kid's Sleep Problems
Ways to deal with budding insomniacs, night wanderers, and more By Paula Spencer

Kathy McCleary has heard it all at bedtime from Grace, her 6-year-old: "Read me another story." "I have to pee." "I need a snuggle." "We forgot dessert tonight." One memorable night, Grace even tried: "Can I stay up to help clean? I just love doing dishes!"

As the evenings dragged on later and later, the exhausted McCleary, who lives in Portland, OR, tried threats, rewards, and even sitting guard in the hallway outside Grace's bedroom. Nothing worked. Her younger daughter, Emma, 3, caught up in her big sister's bedtime resistance, charged that McCleary treated the girls "like prisoners" because she insisted they go to bed.

"No, Emma," corrected Grace. "Prisoners can do things and go places. Actually, it's more like Mommy is our prisoner."

"She's right," McCleary sighs.

Many parents feel shackled by their kids' bad sleep habits. But while advice abounds about putting down infants and toddlers, there's little help if you're the parent of an older child. And you've got lots of company: A recent study of almost 500 kids from kindergarten through fourth grade found that more than a third of them suffered from at least one sleep-related problem, including bedtime resistance, sleep anxiety, and night waking.

This not only leaves us frustrated, but also chips away at the precious p.m. hours grown-ups need to unwind, do chores, and relate to a mate. Kids' sleep problems are linked to daytime crankiness, hyperactivity, depression, and poor school performance, says Will Wilkoff, M.D., a pediatrician in Brunswick, ME, and the author of Is My Child Overtired? Too little rest is a new epidemic among kids, he asserts. If you've asked yourself, "Isn't he too old for this?" get a grip with these tips.

The Delay Artist

Grace, the girl in the opening example, simply doesn't want to go to bed. In fact, the more her parents insist, cajole, threaten, or indulge, the more resistant she becomes.

Most sleep resistors act as if their bedtime is too early, but once the fussing ends, they may actually wind up short on rest. Five-year-olds need about 11 hours of sleep per night, which gradually lessens to 10 1/2 hours by age 7, 10 hours by age 9, and 9 1/2 to ten by age 12. But a better indicator of whether a child gets enough sleep is her behavior, says Marc Weissbluth, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University Medical School and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. If she wakes up rested but gets cranky later, or needs extra shut-eye on the weekend, she's probably sleep deprived.

Kids who buck bedtime generally like the attention it brings. But it's unhealthy for both parent and child to struggle with each other when tired, Dr. Weissbluth says. For the child, the nightly dramas themselves become the bedtime routine.

Changing this habit requires consistency — a tall order if parents are already so tired they lack the physical and emotional stamina it takes. ("My husband and I are usually both too wiped out to draw a line in the sand," McCleary admits.)

Announce during the day that you're instituting a new routine: "After you brush your teeth and put on pj's at eight o'clock, we'll read one chapter of a book together, and it's lights-out." No further explaining allowed. Consider starting the bedtime wind-down earlier than usual so you can spend reasonable one-on-one time with each child. If your kid resists, just keep calmly taking him back to his bedroom. Another tactic: the pass system. After you tuck her in, give your child a bedtime pass exchangeable for only one excused departure from the room after bedtime. A kid saving the valuable pass may fall asleep waiting to use it, says Patrick Friman, Ph.D., a researcher at Boys' Home in Boys Town, NE, who reports success with the method.

The Land Rover

Kate Nolan* of Creve Coeur, MO, starts out every night sleeping soundly in her room. But in the wee hours, she pads down the hall to her parents' bed. When she was a cuddly toddler, her mom and dad didn't mind, but now she's a gangly 7-year-old, and they resent the regular intrusions — and sleeping on a sliver of mattress as she hogs most of the bed.

Why can't Kate and kids like her stay asleep? Between cycles of light and deep sleep, it's natural to wake up from time to time. Most of us roll over and drift off again. Some kids, however, have trouble returning to sleep, perhaps because they occasionally feel too hot or cold, or have had a stressful dream.

"To help your kid learn to fall back to sleep on her own, have a conversation about it during the day, when she's less anxious," suggests Kelly Byars, Psy.D., a pediatric psychologist at the Sleep Disorders Clinic of Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. Use age-appropriate language like, "You're a big kid now, and you need to learn to sleep in your own bed. We'll all sleep better that way. So if you come into our bed before morning, I'm going to tuck you back into yours. You can still come to our room once it's light out." Talk about ways your child can soothe herself to sleep, like hugging a stuffed toy or thinking happy thoughts. And remember to follow through at night — for as many times as it takes.

"Don't be discouraged if your child's behavior doesn't improve immediately," Byars warns. "For a child who can't fall back to sleep alone, the skill has to be learned, and it may take days, even weeks of consistent practice." But if you give in to such compromises as having your child camp out in a chair or sleeping bag next to your bed, you'll never solve the problem.

The Anxious Sleeper

"I've tried everything," complains Lauren Coles*, 9, of Elmhurst, IL, "and I just can't fall asleep." The later it gets, the more worried Lauren becomes. If her parents retire before she's asleep, she panics and begs them to stay up.

When all's quiet at night and it's time to make the transition to sleep, fears often surface — about tests at school, the scary TV show she just watched, and what would happen if Dad was snatched by aliens or Mom was attacked by chipmunks.

Preadolescents can be especially vulnerable as their lives get more crowded with homework, sports practices, clubs, and socializing. When they want to sleep, they're so hyped they can't. It's been widely reported that teenagers' biological clocks change, leading them to stay up later at night even though they still need to rise early for school, but kids 9 to 12 can be affected too, says Dr. Wilkoff. By sixth grade, this lifestyle leaves many children chronically sleep deprived, according to a study last year by researchers at Tel Aviv University. Such kids truly need a calm wind-down to the day, Dr. Wilkoff continues. Curb wild play, suspenseful TV, video games, and books (this may include Harry Potter ones for some children) an hour or so before bedtime.

Well before lights-out, explore what's on your child's mind. "A lot of highly motivated, type-A kids are obsessed with worrying, 'How will I do tomorrow?' in terms of schoolwork and social situations," Dr. Wilkoff notes. Don't dismiss concerns, because even if they seem irrational, they're serious to your child. Instead, Dr. Wilkoff suggests, "say, 'Let's write down what you're thinking about, so we can get the worried thoughts out of your head and onto the paper.'"

Also, show your child ways to distract herself from stressful thoughts. "Ask her if she can travel, in her imagination, to the most beautiful place she's ever seen, and assure her that she can go there in her mind whenever she chooses," suggests Barbara Kay Polland, Ph.D., professor of child development at California State University at Northridge.

The Please-Stay-With-Me Sleeper

When John Connor*, 7, of San Anselmo, CA, had a bad ear infection, his mom sat at his bedside as he fell asleep. After a few days, the ear was better, but John insisted that his mother stay by his side. "I need you to be with me," he'd say. Now he refuses to go to sleep unless his mom or dad is there with him.

We all have certain props that help us fall asleep. Maybe you prefer a feather pillow, say, or the thermostat set at 65 degrees. A typical sleep association for a child is a night-light or a favorite blanket. Unfortunately, it can just as easily be you.

"Sleep is a biological need of our bodies, but it's also a learned behavior," says Byars. "A child can learn to 'need' his parents' presence to fall asleep." He doesn't really need you there, of course. But every time he insists that he does — and you stay by his side — that insistence creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To break the habit, try a phaseout. For starters, suggests Byars, say something like: "As you grow up, it's important to sleep by yourself, without me here. I'm going to stay in your room but not lie down next to you." For a few nights, sit up on the bed until he drifts off. After success with that, move to a chair next to the bed. If your child protests, remind him: "I'm not far away. You are working on learning to sleep by yourself." Most parents who stand their ground have success in a week to ten days, as they transition out of the room. Help your child build a new sleep association to take your place. Maybe it's a substitute for you, like your T-shirt. Kelly Sheehan of Phoenix, MD, helped her son Colin, 7, pick out a stuffed dog. "I told him he needed to make sure the dog felt safe at bedtime. Having this responsibility seemed to ease his tension," she says.

Tune in, can’t drop off
A little Leno or Letterman can help a tired grown-up drift off, but TV can have the opposite effect on kids. Brown University School of Medicine researchers studying 495 children from kindergarten through fourth grade found that TV viewing, especially at night, can lead to bedtime resistance, diminished ability to fall asleep, and sleep anxiety. What kids watched mattered less than how much they watched. So while a half-hour of Rugrats shouldn’t disrupt sleep, more than two hours in a row at bedtime (or more than two hours total throughout the day) can. It’s worth noting that two TV habits were linked most strongly to sleep problems: a child’s having a TV in her room (as more than 25 percent of the kids in the survey did) and falling asleep in front of the tube., March 2001

Paula Spencer is the author of Everything Else You Need to Know When You're Expecting: The New Etiquette for the New Mom.

Banish Bedtime Battles
By Pamela Kruger

Parents have always faced a challenge when putting their kids to bed. But, say experts, sleeping battles are now nearly epidemic, since some working parents are not enforcing good habits.

"Parents have to set limits," says Charles Schaefer, Ph.D., author of Winning Bedtime Battles. "That's often harder for working couples, who may feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children."

Chris York, of Merrick, NY, an airline cargo agent and father of 3-year-old Gabriella, is one of those parents. He works a late shift, often getting home at 10:30 PM, and his wife isn't back from her job as an airline ticket agent until 7 PM. "If Gabriella went to bed at 7:30, I'd get to see her in the mornings, but my wife would only have weekends with her," he says. As a result, Gabriella is usually up until about 11 PM — a routine York doesn't see the harm in: "If she were noticeably suffering, I'd be worried."

Although some kids do require less sleep than others, by the time they're 3 months old, most need 9 or 10 hours each night, says Schaefer. And according to a recent study from Brown University School of Medicine, children whose parents don't enforce appropriate limits — such as bedtime — experience more nighttime disturbances.

To establish good sleeping habits and still spend time together:

CREATE SOOTHING BEDTIME RITUALS After a long day at work, it may be tempting to engage in horseplay with your child. But this will overstimulate him, making it difficult for him to fall asleep. Try to leave active play for weekends and mornings before work. At night, help your child unwind by reading to him or singing softly.

SET ASIDE TIME ON WEEKENDS TO "HANG OUT" Sometimes parents try to squeeze in quality time, say, watching their child play while they pay the bills. But kids who sense their parents' preoccupation may find waking up at night provides their only quiet time with mom and dad. You need to carve out time when your only focus is enjoying your children.

Parenting, December/January 1999


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I recently went through the same thing with my 5yr old boy who has a behavioral disorder, so I know how hard this can be. What worked for me was taking t.v. away completely for a few days, and then not giving it completley back. It was very hard, I am not going to lie: but once you get through it, it is a big sigh of relief!!! It probably took about 2 weeks for my son to get use to this change. Everyday it got better and better. The first day or two will be really tough! The first night I let him play with whatever he wanted; to try and keep his mind occupied. I gave him tons of books and read tons of books with him the first few nights. If your daughter has a t.v. in her room take it out and hide it. My sons t.v. has been in my room now for a month and a 1/2. He use to go to bed anywhere from 10:00-12:00 just like your daughter. Put her in bed 1/2hr to one hour before normal bed time not to go to bed but to read books and read them with her, it's good quality time as well. I promise if you can get through the first week or so you will be okay. I never thought he would give into this but he is use to it now!!! K.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Rochester on

Hi J.,
I have a 3 year old little boy who does the same thing on and off. I do try to instill a bedtime routine even if it is very simple. Lately, I just put him in his pj's a little before bedtime so he can play in them a while and about an hour before bed, I remind him that 8pm is his bedtime (even though he doesn't tell time.) I have a cd player in his room, so we let him lay in his bed and listen to his music. If he does the calling me thing and screaming and etc, we take away things that matter to him until he gets quiet. I turn the music off, close his door, night light, blanket, lovie, etc. He usually get louder before realizing that it will just get worse.
If I'm not in the mood to deal with a fight, I just avoid the harsh way to deal with it by sitting on his bed, reading a story, and telling him that all he has to do is stay in bed until the sun comes up, and I don't give in and let him get out of bed... Hope this helps.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I think you should sing to her.😇



answers from Chattanooga on

i have a 2 yearold and i try to put her in bed around 830 are 9pm but i cant do that cause other people said that its to early and than her daddy saids just wait til he falls asleep like 10 are 11pm and than she wil wake up at 830am r 9am and she fights w me went i put her in her bed yes she share a room w her mom and dad i would put her in the other room but she wnt stay in there and went she sleeps she sometimes fall out of the bed and wake up thro the nite ? so help me to let me put my lil girl in bed early than me???????????



answers from Boston on

Well some may think it's not a good idea, but I had a similar problem with my kids. They would make every excuse to stay up so I decided to get them a tv for their room and have them watch a video tape that keeps them still and they feel asleep within the hour. Some may take advantage of this but my kids stayed in there rooms and it worked for me.



answers from Buffalo on

Ok, I know it's been a while since you posted but I'm in the same boat & was wondering what approach you took. My daughter has ALWAYS slept with me since day one & when we finally moved into a 2BR apt she still wants to sleep with me. I know it's hard to break. Currently I have her on a twin mattress on the floor in her room with a TV. Everynight I put a movie on & pray that she falls alseep before the movie ends, otherwise she calls for me or comes into bed with me.
Do you mind telling me what worked for you?

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions

Related Searches