Our House Is on Lock-down Because Our 7 Year Old Son Wakes at Night to Watch TV.

Updated on January 03, 2018
M.M. asks from Carol Stream, IL
16 answers

HELP! Living with a cute little monster! When my darling son was about 3 1/2 years old, he began waking in the middle of the night and getting into everything he could find. First time was at midnight when I found him in the bathroom with the toilet brush under the running water in the sink and he said he wanted to brush his teeth. When I checked his mouth for wetness, I found he had put gold eyeshadow on as lipstick and he used my make-up brushes used to paint liquid foundation on the toilet seat! Long story short after months of such behavior, we had an alarm installed on his bedroom door (he could knock over the gate we tried to use) so at least we would hear him when he got up. We would use the alarm for weeks, and then stop using it until he started getting up at 4am to watch TV. At this point he was closer to 5yo. Then the fight over the TV got real! But we lived in a small townhouse and could hear the TV through the bedroom wall and could "immediately" go get him and send back to bed.
However - we moved into a new larger house, with a basement, about 6 months ago, just before his 7th birthday. Since then we've installed a key-lock on the basement door and got two keypad safes (one for upstairs and one for the basement) to hold the door key and all TV & PS3 remotes... of course there are nights we forget to lock-up but we try! But in the past week or so, he's taken to hiding the key when we're not looking or, like this morning, climbing on a chair to find the 'hidden key' that we had stashed. We also recently installed a TV in my office and the 2nd night with that he was up at 5am trying to reach the remotes for that!
So - - - I've ordered the interior door key pad knobs (next day shipment will deliver today - thank you Amazon!) which will be installed tonight.
In terms of discipline, we've taken away tubs of Lego's at a time, taken away TV privileges (not that it helps if he's breaking into things), lectured on how disappointed we are in his behavior, spanked, etc... he just shrugs and doesn't seem to care or change his behavior! This is also the first year (1st Grade) that he's had behavior issues at school and the teacher had a similar hard time finding what would work to deter or motivate him. She spoke to the school counselor who suggested he needs 'immediate gratification' for good behavior and she has taken to giving him post-it-notes (he's planning to build a Leprechaun trap with them) as a prize for good stuff.

I've had discussions with the pediatrician over the years - when younger she said it was safest to lock him IN his room... but this made me very uncomfortable (in case of fire or something) and that's why we went with the alarm. But he's getting too old for that! We need to be teaching him self-control and following the rules of the house! The rules are that if it's not 7am, you go to the bathroom and go back to bed (at least read a book in bed, you don't need to sleep). He has a clock in his room and knows how to read/use it. He is NOT sleepwalking... both my daughter and I have been through that and that's not what he's doing. He's wide awake and sneaky as all heck!

Any ideas on how to break my DS's addiction to the television? (Friends have described him as Mike Teavee from Willy Wonka). Admittedly in the old house, the TV was almost constantly on as background noise but we've broken that habit in the new place. The TV is only on in the evenings, mostly after the kids go to bed.
What motivation tools work for you to reinforce wanted behavior? We've tried charts to earn TV time or Lego's if he's following the house rules for 5-days straight, but his only response is, "what if I do good for 30-days... do I get that $300 Lego set?" The longest he's made it is 3-days and we end up discontinuing the chart only to try again months later.
ANY IDEAS would be helpful! I even have my MIL buying roll-on Lavender because she says rolling on his feet at night might help him stay relaxed and asleep. I'll try anything!!!

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your scathing remarks on my parenting skills. I may not have been clear but my issues have more to do with the television and not so much on his sleep issues, which the pediatrician and I are working to find a solution to. On school days we need to be out of the house by 7am so time to get up, dressed, and eat is around 6:30am. His bedtime is between 8:30-9pm. It doesn't matter if we keep him up until 10pm-midnight for a week straight, he is still up at 4pm. Again - I don't really have a problem with him getting up, because so long as he doesn't have access to the TV, he DOES GO BACK TO SLEEP... even if it is on the couch. I have no problem with that! This is a behavioral issue that has been four years in the making and I am on my last bit of sanity. Yes, I agree that the alarm and bedroom locks and such worked fine at 3-5 years old, when he was getting into the steak knives to cut up bananas in the laundry room (yeah - imagine finding that at midnight!) but as I said, " he's getting too old for that! We need to be teaching him self-control and following the rules of the house!"
As for him 'necotiating' for huge toys, we do NOT give in ever. We attempt to teach BOTH our children that they should be productive members of our household. They have chores and are not spoiled in any way. If anything we are told that we are too hard on our kids!
When I mentioned discontinuing the charts and such, I did NOT say that we only tried it a few weeks and gave up. In the effort to make a very long post/question as brief as possible, I did leave out some perhaps important details that would have given you insight into the past four years of terror - going to bed at night and not knowing what you're going to find your child has done in the night. I've already received psychiatric help for myself both in therapy and medications which has finally given me the courage to reach out to this community for support and ideas on what could motivate a 7 year old who can't be motivated or disciplined. I agree, I should not have to resort to locking up my entire house to outsmart a 7yo!!! I'M TRYING HERE!!!
His bedroom is literally just his dresser, bed, and bookshelf, with many books he can read. The LEGO's and TV's are all in the locked basement. The "forgetting" of locking things up happens perhaps once a month for the past 6mo we've been in the new house. And that key that I apparently "failed to hide so well" was on top of a picture frame in the living room and had been good and hidden for over 6mo before I apparently saw me grab it (not realizing he was on the couch at the time).
As for those of you who took offense or exception to the fact that I did refer to my son as a "cute" little monster, I admit to using humor to keep from crying (which I am now). Would you have preferred I said that my husband and I joke about killing our children? We are at a loss and looking for HELP. Apparently the professional realm is where to go... already have the appointment with the pediatrician, which I thought I mentioned but perhaps didn't. Thanks anyway...

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T.S.

answers from San Francisco on

It seems to me like the easiest thing to do is just take the television remotes to bed with you. Don't tell him you're doing this just let him know the remotes are "gone" and will only come back when YOU decide it's time for them to come back.
No advice for the other behavioral stuff, but I'm glad you're seeking outside help, good luck!

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D..

answers from Miami on

Get rid of the televisions. It will be hard for you, but he needs to see some real motivation on your part.

Don't let him have a computer. He'll use that as a substitute for television.

I agree with the mother who said no post it notes. The idea that he needs instant gratification is ridiculous. He needs to learn what EVERYONE learns - life is not gratification at very moment. Life is about being told NO and having to learn it.

I do agree that losing tubs of legos has nothing to do with stealing keys and being addicted to TV. The TV needs to be removed. When he loses what he wants the most, then he will start to pay attention to you.

Anything that he acts like this should go, mom. It sounds like he has an addictive personality and THAT'S what you should be talking to a child psychologist about.

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E.B.

answers from Honolulu on

As others have said, this is not "cute", or "darling". This is not "sneaky as heck". He's not Mike Teavee from a fictional movie.

What he is, is a controlling rebellious child-in-charge who has no consistency, no limits, and immediate parental attention (negative or positive) for disobedience. He knows how to bargain and he knows that anything put in place to actually parent him effectively will only last for a couple of days.

You are on such a dangerous path.

I think some extreme measures need to be implemented. Tonight. Not high-tech alarms. There are some families with children who are affected by serious medical diseases (like Prader-Willi syndrome) who must resort to locks and alarms because the children are intellectually or genetically incapable of self-control. This is not the case with your son. He's extremely capable.

You must be stronger. His room should be stripped of everything except a mattress, pillow and a blanket if the weather warrants it. No Legos of any kind. No toys. No TV anywhere. No outings. Rent a storage system and put all the electronics and Legos and toys in it for a couple of months. Stop referring to a number of days in which he must obey. Take away the alarms. Sell the PS3. You are showing him that you're not capable of parenting him and must rely on electronic systems to control his behavior. He's learned that all behavior is tied to electronics.

Ask for a sleep evaluation at a pediatric sleep study. As well as a physical test, a qualified therapist will help evaluate the behavioral part of sleep.

Before you teach him self-control, you need to teach him that YOU, the parents, are in charge. A child first learns to obey. A toddler learns that, when in the grocery store parking lot, he WILL hold mommy's hand regardless if he wants to or not. Then, when that lesson is thoroughly learned, and when the child is older, he has developed enough self-control so that he can walk beside mommy independently, without any fear of his darting away into the path of a car that's backing up. We never teach a little toddler to first learn self-control in the parking lot. They aren't capable. We hold their hands as they squirm and wiggle and protest. But we know what's best. After awhile, they demonstrate self-control, and they get a reward (not a toy, but the reward of independence). They can walk by themselves. They can push a little toy cart. They can hold the box of Cheerios like a big boy.

Yes, it will be hard. It's hard when we are seated at a restaurant and are about to taste that delicious warm bread and our child pitches a major fit and we have to leave the restaurant and eat leftovers at home. It sucks when we have to leave the grocery store without the groceries and take the screaming tantrum to the car. It hurts when we have to cancel plans with friends and sit at home because our child couldn't stop acting out of control at the park. But it shows the child who is in charge, who is responsible.

If you can't teach him at 7 not to paint the toilet with your makeup and not to get up to watch tv and not to steal keys and manipulate alarms, what will you do in a few short years when he can get his learner's permit?

And all the adults need to be on the same page. No post-it notes. Have a professional evaluate him and write a plan which all the adults must follow (teachers, parents, etc).

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

So, this started at age 3.5, and now he's 7.5, right. So, for FOUR YEARS, he's been running the show and doing what he wants, apparently outsmarting you and your husband most of the time because he knows where keys and remotes are located. You've tried so many different techniques but admit that you don't stick with things for very long. The pediatrician advised keeping him in his room but that made you uncomfortable due to the risk of fire (which I understand) but because the gates didn't work, you gave up on any type of childproof lock. When my son had to be kept in his room, we put a childproof doorknob cover on and secured it. I get that he can probably outsmart that at 7.5, but you missed the gold opportunities at 3.5 and 4.5. You have smoke/fire alarms in the house, right? So rather than face the off chance of a fire, you have the guaranteed nightly event that he will be out of his room. He could just as easily head out into the night as he can head for the TV. You've put in alarms (which means that every single "offense" on his part brings you running to his side) and have ordered yet another high tech "solution" that he'll figure out in a week because he'll either see you input the code or he'll find where you write it down.

You've been held hostage by this child for 4 years as a result. To use another analogy, you and your husband are the circus acts, jumping through hoops and trying new tricks, while a 7 year old is the ringmaster and in charge of everything. You try a new high tech option, but you're really only trying to stay one step ahead of him, rather than mold him into a more cooperative family member who sees you as the authority figures.

And in 4 years, he has not had a solid night's sleep. I get that the teacher can't find a good strategy because he's never had any consistency at all. You "forget" to do things, and then in your frustration, you resort to spanking. Whether or not you think spanking shows him that big people can hit little people if they get mad enough, your showing him that it's okay to act out when angry or frustrated, that you're not in control of yourselves, let alone him. That's your problem.

And he's negotiating for a $300 Lego set? He absolutely knows he's in charge here, because there are no consistent repercussions. If it were me, I'd have put a childproof lock on his door at 3.5 to deprive him of my company (rather than being at the mercy of alarms). By 5, I'd have taken the TVs out of the house entirely and cut the toys to a bare minimum - comfort items only (like a teddy bear) and enough with the expensive rewards like having Play Stations around at all.

But here you are with him at age 7.5, and I think you're trying to shut the barn door long after the horse has escaped. At this point, because you and your husband cannot agree on a consistent strategy and let it be implemented until it works (not give up after 3 weeks or forget to follow through), I think it's time for a good family counselor who can work with your child's pediatrician (or a specialist) to help him calm down and sleep at night (without getting a payoff with alarm-summoned parents) and also look at better diagnostics in terms of his neurological makeup and perhaps dietary solutions. With your permission, these practitioners can coordinate with the school psychologist and the teacher.

I wouldn't jump around into things like essential oils from questionable sources and lavender on the feet - I'd only use science-based techniques in conjunction with food scientists, physicians and therapists. You're not taking this seriously enough and you're even joking about it - which I'm sure you do just to keep your sanity, but still. The bigger he gets, the harder he is to control physically. And the longer this goes on, the more impossible it's going to be for any teachers to undo what you've handed them. i can't imagine the tween and teen years with a child this skilled at dominating his parents. You need some really expert help in putting the parents back in control of this family.

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A.D.

answers from Minneapolis on

This sounds drastic, but I would strongly consider getting rid of the screens in your home, all of them. I like the idea of getting a storage locker, or asking your mom or someone else if they have room to store your electronics at her place while you decide what to do with them in the longer term. Do not allow your son to be a part of any discussion or deals on this. Tell him that you the parents have decided this is what is best for your home, indefinitely. Fill your home with books. Be low-tech. Start reading together as a family. Get into Harry Potter or something like that. If you can change your environment and model reading, your son may develop that good habit himself. Reading before bed is a great habit and a wonderful way to become naturally sleepy. You may think this is punishing yourself, but you may actually find your home and quality of life drastically improved. When your son is at school, or otherwise occupied, you can take a laptop to the coffee shop to treat yourself, while it is out of his sight. I would just stop the charting and rewarding, your son is just trying to figure out what he needs to do to work your system. You've drawn the battle lines, and he's participating in the fight. It's become a game and and a power struggle, so just stop making it into one. Find some physical activity you can do as a family in the afternoons or evenings before setting down for some reading time. Winters are tough, but there are options. Join the Y and go swimming, that's a great outlet for tiring out kids. Every once in awhile, go out to a movie in the theater as a family, but don't present it as a big reward for good behavior. Keep the toys in your home, and especially in his room, to a minimum. Purge and get rid of some things. Consider a toy rotation while you keep most of the toys stored away. Less is more. Honestly, if he wakes up at just plays in his own room with low-tech toys or books, I wouldn't make it a huge deal, though you do want the ultimate goal to be a good night's sleep. If he wakes up and goes in to other areas of the home, I would find a way to remove access to whatever it is he's seeking.

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S.G.

answers from Los Angeles on

You need to get rid of EVERY screen in your home.

Your son needs to know HE is NOT in control. He needs SERIOUS psychological help. You have allowed him to be this way.

Have you considered sending your son to military school? He would be disciplined there. He would have structure that he's not getting at home and the rules would be enforced.

The alarms need to go back ON. TODAY.
There is NO compromise and NO negotiations with your son. He WILL follow the rules. And if he doesn't? These are the consequences for those rules being broken. Taking away LEGOs does NOT fix it. Taking away the TVs fixes it.

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M.E.

answers from Indianapolis on

Wow. It sounds like you are having a hard time at home. I am so sorry. Thank you for reaching out. I am sorry that some of these other mom's have a holier than thou attitude towards you. Their parenting must be much better than mine and yours because lord knows I am struggling with something every day in my house. I'm always wondering am I doing the right thing, should I have handled that differently, was I tough enough, was I too tough..
Anyways, I would reach out to your ped and have your husband and you be on the same page. I like the idea that one of the other moms said, and start with a family meeting to set the expectation and move forward from there. Maybe a sleep study would be a good place to start. I am happy that you have the teacher involved. It's good to have a united front at school too.
Stay strong mamma! Keep searching for help. This group was not the venue apparently. There are other moms out there that are here for you. I think you are a great mom!

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E.J.

answers from Chicago on

This situation is beyond the scope of internet recommendations, and maybe even your pediatrician.

The part missing is whether or not your son has a mental health or neurological diagnosis. At this point, I think that is your next step. Frankly this should have been recommended by your pediatrician before your sons behavior escalated to this point. There needs to be a very thorough assessment done on your son, and perhaps the entire family, by a professional to see what dynamics are at play here.

If your son has a diagnosis, advice from professionals and support groups would be better then anonymous strangers.

If there is no diagnosis or if you failed to follow through with the recommendation to get one, then the focus falls on you and your husband’s parenting. There is something not working with how you two are parenting and it needs to be addressed by a professional before his behavior gets even more dangerous.

Having your son seen professionally (including the family) may result in a diagnosis that will help clarify things and give the family focus and direction, instead of feeling so helpless about what to do. Having the family seen professionally may result in recommendations and education to understand how the family got this way and how to fix it.

Your husband is a parent too and he should be reading all of this and participating in all recommendations so that the burden doesn’t fall on just you.
The older he gets, the worse and more dangerous his behavior will get. You and your husband need to move on this now.

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H.M.

answers from Dallas on

It sounds to me like the alarms should have stayed. And keys should be kept around your wrist or neck and locked in your room. Yes he's having behavior issues at school he's not getting good sleep at night. I would talk to his dr. and see if he's got sleep problems.

Also it could be diet. Is he a hyper active kid? We figured out around the same age our youngest has ADHD we changed his diet some but not hugely. But we did start having him drink thinks with caffeine to help calm him down. Do some research on essential oils. I have been learning a lot about them lately and there are some out there that might help as well. And don't freak-out yes some can be expensive but there are places you can find them cheaper. My mom orders them online through Puritan's Pride and that is the cheapest we have found them.

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P.G.

answers from San Antonio on

This isn't typical behavior. At all. He needs to be professionally assessed. Something is going on with him. Having to lock things up isn't normal. Being that sneaky isn't normal. Waking up like that really isn't normal.

Physical & psych workup for him, ASAP. Family therapy to get through this too. You've all gotten into unhealthy behavioral habits trying to cope with this and you're going to need help & support to fix that, and to deal with whatever's going on with your little guy.

Glad you're taking the first steps with the Pedi. Don't stop.

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L.C.

answers from Washington DC on

My oldest loved TV and that was his currency.
We gave him 4 TV tickets a day worth 30 minutes each. (We did this when he was much younger than your son, but you may find it useful.)
He could use the tickets or he could turn them in at bed time for 25 cents. So - if he skipped TV, he could technically make $7 a week. If he was particularly naughty, he lost a ticket. He got one warning and if he didn’t comply, it was bye bye ticket. You could modify it such that if he stays in bed, he gets a ticket. If he behaves at school, he gets a ticket. You can figure something else along those lines, I’m sure.
YMMV

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S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

i'm sorry, but despite your wounded SWH i'm rather appalled that any monster, however cute, has been allowed to rule the household to this degree.

i like tv and watch a fair bit of it. but in an instance like this i'd get rid of it in a heartbeat. every single one. don't even consider bringing one back into the household until you've figured out how to parent your admittedly difficult child.

roll-on lavender.

huh.

ETA i think heidi is on to the best suggestion (other than family therapy, which is not a slam but a clear need for a family in this degree of distress), which is to closely monitor his diet. it's probably not a cure-all, but this young fellow is not behaving normally and that's a great place to start.
khairete
S.

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R.K.

answers from Appleton on

Use the parental controls on your cable boxes to block all channels before you go to bed. In the morning when you want to watch TV unblock the channels.

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N.B.

answers from Oklahoma City on

One thing, the consequences. What he's doing has nothing to do with Legos or other things. He needs natural consequences.

When our little guy started wandering, outside and inside, I took his mattress off his bed and put it across his door and I laid down on it with him and slept.

But the main thing I see is that he's waking up for the day way too early.

In my opinion he needs to go to bed at least a couple of hours later to get him past this biorhythm time his body has set. Mess his bed time up a LOT and his body will take about 3 weeks and reset.

If you look at his sleep patterns logically and google how many hours of sleep he "should" need you need to see how many hours his body is actually taking, on a regular basis. Some of us won't sleep 8 hours if you tie us to the bed. Others need a full 12 every night.

If he's consistently waking up at 9.5 hours then you need to, after the biorhythm reset, adjust his bedtime where he gets that much sleep and it's time for him to get up for his school day.

I truly think kids have a sleep need, it might not be what we want for ourselves so we can have time at home without the kids but if the kid isn't sleeping through the early morning hours then adjustments must be made.

Say a child needed a full 9 hours. If he goes to bed, falls asleep at 8pm, then he's going to wake up, fully refreshed and ready to go for his day around 5am.

If he goes to bed at 9pm then he's going to wake up at 6am, and so forth.

We put our kids to bed at 9pm, pretty much year round. A little bit later in the summer when it's still daylight at 9pm but they were always inside winding down around 9pm.

They almost always, year round, woke up at 7-7:30am. That time worked for us because they went to school at 8am and if they got up, got dressed, got to school by 7:45am they got free breakfast. If we set our alarm for 6:45am then got up and turned on lights and stuff the kids would be up and out of their rooms, dressed, in about 15 minutes.

So putting the kids to bed around 9am worked for us. As they got older they got to stay up til 10pm. They still woke up around 7am.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

For my poor sleeper - our doc recommended:

- White noise (fan)
- Darkening blinds
- Melatonin
- Going to bed earlier (to hit a deeper REM sleep)
- Getting up when the child wanted to get up in the morning (as in even at 5 am)

For me, I got up when my child did at 5 am for a short time (few weeks to a month). It meant he was exhausted by end of day, slept through the night, and that 5 am stretched to 530, to 6 am .. and then it was bearable.

I have early risers with most of my kids, and it was just something I had to accept. I found that if I worked with their sleep patterns rather than trying to fight it, they all slept better at night. For me, that was when they were toddlers, but maybe what's happened is your son never got into a proper sleep pattern when he was at age 3.

Not sure if this helps but with us, TV is used as downtime. After everything else, and I don't strictly monitor how long because I know they've played, homework is done, etc. When I take something away entirely from my kids, they become obsessed. Do you allow him any TV? Maybe I missed that (sorry, still on first coffee).

I've never had a roamer at night other than night terrors at around age 2/3 - but I wonder if you made a place for him to come crash in your room - even a cot in a corner of your bedroom - would that be better than him sleeping on the couch? That's what we did when ours were little, and woke with bad dreams. We didn't make it too comfy. I know you don't want to create new bad habits.

Good luck - must be very hard and everyone must be very tired. Not easy.

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K.C.

answers from Anchorage on

It seems like you are saying the problem is he is addicted to tv. He wakes for the sole purpose of watching tv. You have 2 choices in my opinion. Remove all the tv's from your home. No t.v. - no motivation to wake in the middle of the night, right? Or, and I will probably be blasted for this, but get him his own tv in his room. If he wakes in the night, he can just lay in his own bed and watch his own tv. I know, everyone will say the he will never sleep, he will just watch tv all night. But I don't believe that. He will eventually get tired and go back to sleep. And maybe the tv will lose some of its awesome power over him if he has access to it whenever he wants. It won't be so tempting anymore. Or I could totally be wrong. I don't know. Lol. Whatever happens, good luck. I don't think you are a bad parent at all. You are reaching out for help so that alone makes you a good mom.

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