If the title of this article piqued your interest, then you may be sitting down to read it after your 717th reading of Goodnight, Moon and fourth glass of water tonight. If that’s the case: we understand. Getting young children to bed isn’t always easy, especially when you’re tired yourself after a long day. 

Those bedtime wrangling sessions may go down in history as some of your least favorite memories of your kids’ early days — and we’re sure that pandemic anxiety hasn’t made it any easier. But they don’t have to define your relationship. In this post, we’ll look at some of the reasons why your children seem to be doing their best to drive you crazy at bedtime, as well as expert-backed ways to counter that craziness and create a smooth bedtime process.

Why Do Kids Resist Going To Bed? 

Why do kids make bedtime such a battle? You’ve probably asked yourself this question more than once. In truth, there are a number of reasons for your young child to suddenly become a wailing tyrant at bedtime, from a mattress that isn’t comfortable to the imaginary monster under the bed. It may be any one of these — or a combination of several.

They don’t want to be alone

In many cultures, children routinely sleep in a room with their parents or siblings. Being alone can be scary, especially when you’re too young to differentiate what’s real from what’s imaginary. Having someone else with you can make all the difference between a night filled with terror and one of peaceful sleep.

The timing isn’t working for them

“There are biologically appropriate times when sleep is easier for babies and when you go against this natural rhythm, you will see resistance from little ones,” says Kate Curry, a certified infant and child sleep consultant and owner of Kid-sulting, LLC. “Possibly the bedtime is too early or late. Maybe the nap schedule is interfering, as well.”

They want to be with you

Kids and babies are hard-wired to want to be with their parents, who protect them and nurture them. Being alone is when they are most vulnerable: even babies realize this and react with fear or anger.

They sense your own diminishing patience with them

“Children can sense that impatience and it makes them feel insecure, thus they want their parents’ attention that much more,” says Dr. Sarah Mitchell, a pediatric sleep consultant at Helping Babies Sleep and best-selling author of The Helping Babies Sleep Method.  “Misbehaving’ is a way to get attention. Negative attention is still attention.”

They are overstimulated

Watching an exciting TV show, playing computer games, or engaging in physical and active play time too close to bed can leave your child with an elevated heart rate and little interest in quieting down.

They’re afraid they’ll miss something

If your child knows that mom and dad are planning to watch the latest DVD in the Marvel cinematic universe after they go to bed, they may resist all efforts to keep them tucked in.

They’re genuinely fearful of something 

It’s usually something imaginary but very real to them. Even if the cause doesn’t seem reasonable to you, it may cause them to fear going to sleep.

Expectations During Our New Normal 

Added on to all the age-old reasons for resisting bedtimes has been a new one this past year: the Coronavirus pandemic. Pandemic distress comes in many guises and has multiple reasons for kids and adults.

One significant reason is the change in schooling. Children may be learning at home now, either partially or fully, and that can increase anxiety. They have less time on the playground or with their friends and lead more sedentary lives, with less of an outlet for their energy. Since their parents are working from home there’s often less time to spend with the kids to provide a sense of security to counter all these changes in their world.

Homeschooling and less time spent outside playing lead to increased screen time, and that’s not good, either. The blue light that our devices emit interfere with a hormone called melatonin, which signals our body that it’s time to sleep. That’s why kids and adults should switch off the technology an hour or so before bedtime.

All this means that you’re likely to be dealing with a wound-up, energized kid at bedtime who’s trying to cope with a new and different world — just like their parents. Unlike their parents, however, kids don’t have the emotional maturity to handle the changes.

“Parents are likely to see various forms of regression and resistance,” says Marissa Denig Palatas, owner of Juniperdays.com, a site that features play objects and toys for children. “Depending on the age or situation, this could be due to new fears, new adjustments with schooling, or even the new sense of uneasiness that is an undercurrent in the home.”

How can you engage with your children to minimize these challenges? There’s no one set answer. Kate Curry suggests talking to them about their fears. “They may have real fears that can be validated by acknowledging that their emotions are real,” she says. Do it during the day, though, when they feel safe, rather than just before bedtime. Curry says that it can also help to have a family meeting to discuss bedtime routines and rules to be on the same page.  

Staggering the bedtimes of multiple children can help, says Dr. Mitchell. “Children want their parents’ individual and undivided attention, so staggering bedtimes, so there’s one-on-one time with a parent can make a big impact. With less socialization during the day, Mitchell says, children want more social time with their parents at night.

Consider ways you can help your child be more active during the day, too. They may not be able to play with friends, but if there is a park nearby or you have time to go for a walk with your child, do so — it’s good for both of you. Turn your outdoor time into a scavenger hunt or “I Spy” game to make it more fun.

What Are The Best Ways To Prevent Battles Before They Start? 

What are the best ways to fight bedtime reluctance so that your children can get a good night’s sleep and you can have some downtime? Here are a few factors that may help.

Create a sleep diaryFor several weeks before you make any changes, keep a diary where you jot down the activities your child engaged in during the few hours before bedtime, noting how long it was before they actually got to sleep. This will help identify any points of conflict that need to be addressed.
Set the right bedtimeIf you’re getting continued resistance to bedtime, maybe it’s time to set it a bit later in the evening. Try giving your child another half hour, letting them spend it in quiet, non-technological ways such as reading or snuggling with you.
Make some memories: read a bookGetting your child in the habit of reading at an early age is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Check out these listings of the Caldecott Medal winners for the most distinguished picture book, or, for older children, the Newbery Medal, for most distinguished children’s book. Many of these will be available at your local library.
Avoid screens before bedFrom cell phones to gaming consoles, your screens release blue light, which stops melatonin from telling your body it’s time for sleep. Have your kids leave their cell phones at the charging station (which should not be in the bedroom) at least an hour before bedtime.
Set the stageCreate an environment that is sleep-inducing. Your child’s bedroom should be painted a soft color and feature lighting that can be dimmed. Make sure your child likes their mattress and blankets and finds them comfortable. For infants, a quiet mobile hung over the bed or an ambient noise machine may help relax them. A rocking chair in the bedroom may help for nights when all else fails.
Have a Plan B“The job of kids this age is to test boundaries,” says Curry. Determine beforehand when it’s okay to cave in to their entreaties and when it’s time to draw the line. Maybe you’re good with one glass of water or a book, but draw the line at two. Know your limits before you’re in the situation of needing them.
Be confident!As the parent, the decision on bedtime is yours to make — not your child’s, no matter how much they might like it to be. Your behavior at bedtime can set a great example for them, though. Be kind, understanding and flexible — but also firm, without getting angry. In time, your kids will understand and be grateful for the limits you set.

Sample Bedtime Routine

To download our sample bedtime routine, click here

My Slumber Yard’s Bedtime Routine Activity

Our team understands that changes in routine can be difficult for anyone, especially for a child. In an effort to make an empowering activity for children participating in the creation of a healthy sleep routine, our team created additional printable templates families can begin using tonight to co-create their child’s very own personalized bedtime routine. Creating a bedtime routine is a fun activity that can involve the whole family while arming your child with a renewed sense of independence and control during the adjustment period to follow. Simply print the routine templates, below, and allow your child to begin creating their own routine with the tiles provided, or use the blank tiles for more personalized routine elements.

In preparation for this activity, we recommend parents use safety scissors to pre-cut the tiles for their child and work alongside them to place their routine elements (up to 10) into the visual bedtime routine template using non-toxic glue or tape.

Download these resources, here:

Visual Bedtime Routine Template

Visual Bedtime Routine Tiles (A)

Visual Bedtime Routine Tiles (B)

Bedtime Battles Vs. Bedtime Fears?

It’s often difficult to determine if your child is genuinely afraid of something or just stubborn. If your child is a toddler or younger, they may not be able to articulate their thoughts and fears well enough for you to understand how best to help them. 

“Imagination starts around age three, and that’s really when fears can manifest,” says Dr. Mitchell. Children younger than three who seem afraid are usually just repeating what they’ve heard their parents say. If a parent asks the child, “are you scared?” that may plant the idea and create a new stalling effort, she says.

According to Dr. Mitchell, children older than three can have genuine fears. “I would truly listen to the concern and try to meet it,” she says. “For example, a lot of kids develop a fear of the dark and there’s nothing wrong with leaving the light on and seeing if that alleviates the fear.”

On the other hand, if you address the child’s stated fear and different needs keep coming up, it may be a stall. Ask yourself these questions to help you determine your response:

  • Have I met the child’s initial need (by giving them a glass of water, for example, or installing a night light)?
  •  Are they sticking to the same story or changing their story each time I go in their room to see what works?
  • Am I willing to leave them alone for 20 minutes to see if they quiet down?

When you feel you’ve met the child’s true needs, and now they are just fussing, it may be time to leave them alone, hard though it might be, to see if they quiet down.

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

If you have children, you probably face the bedtime battles at least occasionally — it goes with the territory of being a parent. The key to success is remaining calm and in control while determining the root cause of your child’s distress and how you need to handle it. We know: easier said than done. But though it may not seem that way, your child is looking at you for reassurance and structure, and providing it will leave you well on your way to a calm and peaceful nighttime experience — for both children and parents.