From Parenting 24/7: University of Illinois Extension


Help! My Child Won't Go to Bed.

Posted , updated Jun 16, 2005.

Help! My Child Won't Go to Bed.

“I’m thirsty!” “I have to go to the potty.” (again). “Read me another book.” What should a parent do?

Getting toddlers and preschool children to bed can be a challenge. Life for them is so exciting and it is often hard for them to settle down. One and two year olds need 14 hours of sleep per day, mostly at night. By age three, children still need about 11 or 12 hours of nighttime sleep. Young children often try to delay bedtime, which can cut into their much needed sleep. A fixed bedtime routine can help a child regulate their body’s need for sleep.

The bedtime routine is important because it lets children know what they can expect to happen every night. There are no hard and fast rules for what a parent should do. Find what works best for you and your child and stick with it.

Some Suggestions Include:

  • Start early and give the child a little time to wind down. “I’ll set the timer and when it rings, it’s time for your bath.”
  • Follow bathtime and brushing of teeth with some quiet play or snuggle up and read books to your child. Choose relaxing stories (no monsters or spooky settings).
  • Listen to a tape of favorite lullabies, relaxing music or stories.
  • Lead the child to his bed. “Come with me now. It’s time to get in bed.”
  • Avoid letting the child fall asleep in front of the TV. Children sleep best if they fall asleep in the same place they wake up.
  • Spend some time talking about the day and about the fun you had together or what you did apart. Many parents make this their one-on-one time spent with each child.
  • Give your child a kiss, provide a cheerful word and tell them how much you love them.
  • Tuck them in with a favorite toy.
  • Try to remain calm and neutral, which can be difficult after the eighth “I need a drink.” If you start to lose control, your child will also lose control.

If your child is having trouble staying in bed:

She may be overly tired, have difficulty winding down and falling asleep, be having a hard time separating from you, or be testing her limits. Stay firm about her bedtime. One way to ease separation is:

  • After the bedtime routine, tell your child that you are leaving and will be back to check on her in five minutes.
  • Keep your word and keep the visit brief.
  • If she cries again, tell her you’ll be back in ten minutes, then check on her again.
  • Continue checking at 10 to 15 minute intervals until she stops calling for you.
  • Be consistent until she learns to fall asleep on her own.

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