Bedtime Battles

After a full day with kids, minding our patience and trying to be creative, loving, attentive and understanding, it seems that when the bedtime battles begin, our patience goes out the window. This is a hard time of day for many families.

I offer some suggestions to make getting your little ones in bed easier.

First, understand how much sleep your children should be getting each night.
A three year old should be getting about 12 hours of sleep total, that includes naps.
Four year olds, 11 and 1/2 hours of sleep.
Five year olds, 11 hours of sleep.
Six and Seven year olds should still be getting about 11 hours of sleep.
Eight and Nine year olds, 10 hours
Ten year olds, still about 10 hours.
Thirteen year olds, 9 hours.
(Ferber, R. 2006)

Also consider that sleep breeds sleep. There is this misnomer that if you keep kids up so they are extra tired, they will sleep better and longer. Not necessarily the case. Haven't you ever put your child to bed late and they don't sleep in, instead they wake up at the same time they always do? Instead, recognize that the more your child sleeps, the more your child will sleep.
  • Set a bed time and STICK WITH IT. This is so important. Don't let bed be whenever. Set a time that is best for your child and put them to bed at that time every night. The more lenient you are with bed time, the more bedtime battles.
  • If you are trying to establish a new bed time, maybe because you have been putting your child to bed too late and you are trying to change that, make the adjustment gradually. You can't make bed time an hour earlier and expect children to automatically adjust. The best thing to do is over the course of a few weeks, move bed time up by 15 to 20 minutes each night until you have reached your desired bed time. This will allow your child's body to adjust to the new time gradually. There will be less stress involved for you and your child. 
  • ESTABLISH A BED TIME ROUTINE. I can't say enough about this. First, start your bedtime routine at least 30 MINUTES BEFORE you want your children to be in bed. This might sound like a lot, but think about it. They need time to wind down just like we do. Rushing through brushing teeth and prayers, only to throw them in bed and turn out the lights. Of course they are going to holler our name 20 times. They have not been allowed to do and say all that they need. 
Establish a routine, a sequence in which you will accomplish the same bedtime tasks every night. In our house we put on our pajama's and hang up our clothes; go to the bathroom, brush out teeth, read a book or two, spend a few minutes talking about the day and then we say prayers. Then with hugs and kisses we turn out the lights. We stick to the same order every night. If I suggest we do it any other way, my kids are the first to remind me that "we never brush our teeth before we put on our pajama's." By sticking to a routine, kids know what to expect, they also feel safe and secure because there is predictability. Kids like it when things are predictable. It brings comfort.

Bed time routines are also a great way to connect at the end of the day. My husband loves this time of the day because it is his time to connect with our kids. He hears what they did at school, they tell him what they are excited and worried about. They wrestle and tease. There is great power in this time of day. Embrace the opportunities to connect with your children. (Believe me I know this is hard when all you can think about is all the things that you will "finally" be able to do now that your kids are in bed. But don't rush it.)
  • Don't threaten. When kids get out of bed, or drag their feet at bed time, try not to say things like "If you don't get in bed right now, you can't play tomorrow." This will only make things worse. Instead, stick to a routine, give your kids lots of time to get ready for bed, and talk about the fun things that you will do, like "It's time to read a book, do you want to pick one out?". "Why don't you tell me what you liked best about today and then we will turn out the lights." These approaches will get you much better results. 
  • Teach children to sleep in their own beds. I recognize that there are many opinions surrounding this. You have to do what is best for your family. I still suggest that you put children in their own beds and teach them to sleep there. It is good for them, and for you and your spouse. If you have found yourself in this sticky situation and you are trying to get your toddlers to get back in their own beds, I suggest the firm approach. "You need to sleep in your bed." When children get out, with little to no words at all, return them to their beds. Be patient, breaking the habit will take time, but don't give in, not even one night.
  • Don't get 10 glasses of water. If you have put your little ones down for the night and they call you up for a drink, or because they want to "tell you something." Only respond once. Explain that they can have one request and that is all. They will learn to use that request wisely and pretty soon, the requests will stop. Going up every time they call will fuel the fire and drag the process out for hours. 
If as parents we can change the way we think about putting our kids to bed, it will really help with the bedtime battles. It can be a great time of day when we relax, connect, listen and teach. But, we have to be structured, and DILIGENT.

If bedtimes are already difficult in your family, remember that behavior can be modified. Don't give up hope, be patient and don't quit.


Family Volley


  1. Thank you so much for this! We are struggling with our almost 3 year old little girl. She used to sleep great but now wakes up several times a night crying and running into our room. We've gotten in the habit of letting her sleep with us which hasn't helped. Thanks for the support and boost of confidence! We'll be making some changes.

  2. Heather,
    Do you have any suggestions for a child who is an insomniac? This seems to run in my family as myself and several of my siblings and my dad have a hard time falling asleep at night. I have tried all the relaxation exercises etc... Sometimes they work. Sometimes nothing works and I am just not able to fall asleep.

    So I have one child who seems to have this same bug. She will lay quiet and still in her bed for hours sometimes and not be able to fall asleep. It seems to help if I lay with her till she falls asleep, but with 3 other children and my sanity to keep, I don't want to get in this habit.

    When I can't sleep I get up and do something for a while then go try again. Is this okay to do with a child who went to bed at 8 and at 11 is still up while all her siblings have been asleep for hours?

    got any advice on that?

  3. My kids go to bed fine, but they get up SO EARLY, no matter what time they go to bed. If the sun is starting to come up, they are up. Now that the sun is rising before six am our family is VERY grouchy. They sleep well at night, I just wish we had a way to shut the birds up and turn off the sun 'til 7 or 8.

  4. My husband HATES bedtime! I feel like it is a very important time of the day and I love that time with my kids, but I feel like we are constantly fighting because he thinks that it's unnecessary to read books and do other things. Do you have any suggestions for how I could try and get him to understand how important it is?

  5. Thank you for this great advice. We have a good routine, but with the kids waking up by 6, we have to start bedtime before 6pm so they can get the required sleep. So it's been hard to keep a consistent bedtime when anything comes up. But we have to work on that.
    I also was wondering about any ideas you have on children that can't fall asleep, or take a very long time to fall asleep? And how to get away from having to lay with kids to fall asleep? With 3 kids, that's 3 hours, and my night is gone. A lot of times I've fallen asleep too. And of course it has to be mom. Dad tries, and whoever he gets cries and cries for me. So then the other child that I'm with can't sleep from the noise.
    How do you get kids to fall asleep on their own, and when sharing a room, not keep each other awake??

  6. OH my do we have bedtime battles. Our schedules until recently have made bedtime kind of wacky. Hopefully now that summer has hit, we will be able to establish a routine we can stick to! Thanks for the great advice!

  7. Andrea, your situation sounds just like mine, although recently Dad has been able to help out because I've had to work at night. I too would like to know how to get out of this habit. we have a five and three year old that share a room and we have always laid with them until they fall asleep. It's so hard, because they're genuinely scared of being alone in there. I feel bad that I've created this, but want to know how to remedy it.


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