Dear Dr. Ray,
Our four-year-old daughter fights going to bed nearly every night. We are exhausted and to the point where we allow her to stay up as long as she wants. Help! ―No good nights
Bedtime badtimes are daily (nightly?) turbulence in homes where preschoolers roam. The level of resistance is from the mild―nagging, whining, wailing―to the major league―needing chained to the bedpost to stay put. In Bedtime Badtimes, we talked about settling milder bed battlers. Ideas were: 1) Adjusting Ben’s bedtime back a half hour or so to bring it more in “sync” with his biological clock; 2) setting up a ritual to make bedtime fun time, e.g., brushing teeth together, telling stories, saying prayers, talking about dreams to come; 3) Ignoring any and all of Eve’s unhappy noise over having to be unconscious for several hours.
Now on to laying to rest the major league sleep shunners. Major League is defined as any child who will not remain in his bedroom, who crawls out his window and back through yours, or who chews through his floor and drops into the family room.
A passive approach is the ghost tactic. If Casper isn’t at least floating around in his room by the appointed hour, he becomes a ghost. No speaking to him; no answering his questions; no television; no toys; no food. Effectively, he does not exist. Your goal is to make staying up absolutely no fun. Most kids will tire of such status and fall asleep on the couch, kitchen floor, even in their own beds. If Casper dramatically tries to grab your attention, say, through diving into the refrigerator and devouring tomorrow night’s dessert, you have to act. But if you can master the art of acting without talking, this strategy may eventually succeed.
If the ghost tactic isn’t appealing, sometimes very firmly placing a youngster back in bed will show her that you mean business and that this affair is over. Some parents add a swat on the seat for good measure.
Blocking the doorway can also work, as you make exit nearly impossible. With kids, you can’t make anything totally impossible. Among blocking techniques are: 1) a baby gate, ideally made of super-hardened steel girders; 2) a large chair, preferably a 430-pound large chair; 3) installing a simple eyehook and latch on the outside of the door, allowing the door to open a few inches but not nearly enough to sneak through or to toss anything out. One mother with a steel-willed bed-battler told me she installed a screen door on her son’s bedroom that could be locked from the hall side. From her descriptions of the little guy, though, I think mere wire mesh would have only made him mad.
You might inform your daughter that if she leaves her room after bedtime there will be a cost. For example, she will lose tomorrow’s cartoons, or a day’s worth of her favorite doll―you know, the one that realistically closes its eyes as soon as you lay it flat. Whatever the cost may be is up to you and what would work best with your daughter. The key is to pick something and follow through with it tomorrow.
The last word on bedtime badtimes is that eventually kids learn to like sleep. I mean, how many teenagers do you know who would rather wash the car than take a nap? And remember the bright side to bedtime badtimes. Little Dawn prefers your company over sleep and being unable to have any fun whatsoever.