Picture this: you’ve gone through the entire bedtime routine with your 4 year-old.
He’s had a bath, put on his jim jams, brushed his teeth, done a pee, hopped in bed, read three little story books with you, asked two questions and patted each of his animals good night.
You’ve turned out the light, closed the door and sat down in front of the TV with your bowl of ice cream when you hear, … “Mummy!” … “Mummy!”
You go to check on him. He’s hungry, wants a bowl of cereal. You say no, go to sleep. Close the door, back to the slightly melting ice cream.
Three minutes later. “Mummy! Mummy!”
You go back to his room. He’s scared of the dark. Can you put a light on?
You turn on the corridor light and go back to your ice cream.
5 minutes later: “Mummy!”
This goes on for an hour or more. He has every concern in the book. He’s too hot, too itchy, wants a cuddle, wants to know when Daddy will be home. You’re getting more angry and frustrated by the minute!
After the sixth time you tell him you won’t be back and he needs to go to sleep NOW.
The next call of “Mummy!” and you decide to ignore him. He calls out for a while then stops. Maybe he’s given up, you think hopefully.
Two minutes later he’s got out of bed and snuck silently up behind you, giving you a big fright!
You shout – “Back to bed now!” and he bursts into tears. You feel so bad you take him back to bed and cuddle him until he falls asleep.
Does this story sound familiar?!
Variations on this happen to us all at some stage of our child’s life. Maybe they don’t call out, but they just keep getting up. Or perhaps they keep turning on their light and playing when it’s way past their bedtime.
It’s such a common challenge that I wanted to put together some solutions for you.
The Main Reasons for Resisting Sleep - and How to Deal With Each One
There are a few possible reasons for the refusal or inability to go to sleep.
Let’s get into it and you can identify which of these underlying drivers of the bedtime resistance is most likely to be affecting your child.
1. Separation anxiety or Loneliness
Many kids want more time with Mum or Dad and bedtime separates them from you. This is the most common cause, in my experience. Some phases of your child’s life will trigger extra separation anxiety, for example a change you’re your child starting daycare or kindergarten or you starting a new job or going away on a trip.
What can you do?
· Make sure you or your partner have some quality time with your child during the day, especially in the afternoon. But it needs to be fun and intimate so they feel really close to you. Even scheduling 20 minutes of play with your child with no other distractions (phones off!) should do it.
· Put lots of cuddles, smiles and fun into the bedtime routine so they feel really connected to you coming up to bedtime. Even though they are frustratingly slow at toothbrushing or bathtime, try to keep it all upbeat and happy!
· When you turn out the light, tell them you promise to check on them after 5 minutes to make sure they are okay – and follow through on your promise. If they are still very clingy, you can promise to come back after 5 minutes again (10 minutes may go by and they won’t know the difference!). Repeat until they go to sleep. This may sound tedious, but it will give them a sense of security that will build over time until you can eliminate the checking on them.
· If they have a sibling, consider putting them to sleep in the same room.
To many kids, bed is boring! We do need to make bedrooms boring so that they sleep and don’t get up and play. But some children have a negative view of bed and resist staying there.
To make their bed more desirable, try these strategies:
· Use your kids’ imagination: before sleep time, get them to help you tell a bedtime story about whatever characters they find most interesting. Then tell them to continue the story in their dreams. (I use my daughter’s love of fairies to keep her in bed – fairies don’t come out when adults are around so she has to stay in bed and dream of fairies on her own for them to come!)
· Have a special sleep toy who cuddles your child to sleep – there are some you can buy that vibrate, have soft music or purr.
· Play sleepy music or sounds in their bedroom. I use an app called “Relax Meditation” which allows you to choose from a range of ambient, white-noise sounds like rain, waves, wind or gentle music.
3. They are not tired
As kids get older, they gradually need less sleep. It’s easy to forget this and wonder why you’re having so much trouble at bedtime. They actually aren’t tired!
There are two possible reasons that they need less sleep:
Option A: They had a nap during the day and don’t really need it.
At around 2-4 years old all children stop needing the daytime sleep.
They get enough sleep in the night and, if you give them a nap during the day, you’ll find that at their old bedtime (let’s say 7pm) they are still running around the house!
My daughter stopped needing a nap at 2.5 years old and in the evenings she would be up until 9.30 at night, much to our frustration! As soon as we cut out the daytime nap, she returned to her bedtime at 7pm.
Yes it was challenging to get her through the day without a nap – we did a lot of activity in the afternoon to keep her awake! And we had to avoid longer car trips between 1-5pm or she’d be asleep for sure!
At any age, if your child falls asleep in the day, you may notice that bedtime gets delayed!
Option B: They are just older and need less sleep.
As kids get older they need less sleep.
My daughter always went to sleep at around 7.15pm. Suddenly when she was 5 we had her bouncing around the room and calling out to us for another hour – it was very frustrating! We thought we were doing something wrong at bedtime! But, no, she simply needed less sleep. Her sleep time is now 8pm and if we work towards that time we have no problems.
Here’s a handy graph that shows how many hours your child needs (on average) at each age. (But let’s remember that all kids are individuals and your child may not fit the graph but still be just fine! If they are getting less sleep than this and they don’t seem tired, then don’t worry!)
Give these solutions a try! I’d love to hear how it goes for you – email me or join me on the Facebook group and share your wins (and challenges!).
I’ve got a blog post in the works all about that big question of getting your babies and toddlers to sleep through the night. Coming soon!
In the meantime, you might like to read my previous blog post:
If you’ve got a challenge with sleep that you’d like some advice on, please email me! I’ll make sure to answer it in my next blog post on sleep – or write a whole new one for you!
Wishing you well,