What to do when your child
has trouble going to bed
You & Your
Most young children have times when they don’t want to go
to bed or don’t want to stay in bed.
Child There are many reasons why. Sometimes it’s hard for chil-
dren to be separated from their parents at night. They don’t
like to stop playing. And it’s natural for them not to like being
told what to do and when to do it.
Bedtime problems can be hard on parents, too. You need
some time to yourself at night. And it is upsetting to end the
day arguing with your child.
Children usually manage better when there are family rules
about bedtime. Bedtime rules work best when they are
regular, kind, and rm.
You and your child can get through bedtime struggles with
a little work. And by understanding the problem and helping
your child learn to go to bed without a fuss you’re also show-
ing your child you care.
Some helpful hints for bedtime.
A publication of the University of Pittsburgh Ofce of Child Development made possible with help
from the Frank and Theresa Caplan Fund For Early Childhood Development and Parenting Education.
For more Parenting Guides and other information, visit the University of Pittsburgh Ofce of Child
Development on the Internet at www.pitt.edu/~ocdweb/familyissues/guides
You & Your Child may be reproduced for non-prot use only.
What to do when your child has
trouble going to bed
Bedtime starts before it’s time to say Let your child know it’s okay if he or she
goodnight can’t fall asleep right away
Before bedtime, help your child unwind. It’s all right if your child doesn’t fall asleep right away,
n Do calming and relaxing things before bed and he or she should know that. But if this happens,
time to help your child settle down. he or she should still stay in bed.
n Whatever you’re doing before bedtime, remind Help your child know there are ways children can
your child that bedtime is next. help themselves fall asleep. Some children:
n Try speaking in a quieter voice as bedtime n Cuddle a stuffed animal.
approaches. n Think about a happy story.
n Read or sit and talk with your child. This n Remember a nice time.
will help both of you settle down after a n Sing themselves songs.
n Avoid doing things that will get your child
Give your child something of yours
excited, like tackle or chase games, or Sometimes children don’t like being separated from
watching an exciting or scary television their parents even if they are in the other room.
show. Try giving your child something of yours to keep
n Don’t give bedtime snacks that have caffeine. through the night so he or she can feel connected to
No cola or chocolate, for example. Caffeine you.
may keep a child awake.
Leave a light on
Set a bedtime routine Your child may also feel more at ease if you leave on
Bedtime is easier for children if they know when and a night light in his or her room or if you leave the door
what to expect each night. open a little.
Here are things that some families do as part of their Don’t give in
children’s bedtime routine:
When your child fusses and wants to stay up longer
n Wash up or take a bath. it may seem easier to give in. But this won’t help to
n Brush teeth. solve bedtime struggles.
n Read books or tell stories. Crying may mean you child needs more
n Give hugs or backrubs. comforting
n Spend time cuddling in a chair. Even after it seems bedtime struggles are over, your
child may have trouble at bedtime now and then.
n Sing quiet songs.
n On those nights, spend a little extra time with
n Say a prayer or talk quietly about what
your child before bed.
happened that day and what is coming up
tomorrow. n If your child cries hard after saying goodnight,
sit nearby for a few minutes.
Say goodnight to things in the room. For example,
“Goodnight pillow, goodnight books.” When your rou- n Try giving your child a backrub to calm him or
tine is over, say, “Goodnight,” then leave the room. her down.
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