Friday, July 9, 2010

Hopping Out Of Bed?

The Question:
Hi Jane-

I'm wondering how you deal with children repeatedly getting out of bed after they have been tucked in for the night.  After going through the entire bedtime routine, my 3 1/2 year old daughter often appears at the top of the stairs minutes later, claiming she can't sleep.  I understand an extra drink or trip to the bathroom before she settles down for the night, but really I think she just doesn't want to miss out on anything that might be going on while she's in bed.  Short of keeping up her up until the rest of the family is in bed or tiptoeing around the house until she's fallen asleep, how can I help her understand that bedtime is non-negotiable?  It discourages me that an otherwise wonderful day together can end on a sour note as we spend an extra hour convincing her that it really is time to go to bed.  I would much rather send her to bed with hugs and kisses than tired lectures on obedience, agency, and consequences.

Thank you for your ideas and willingness to share your life experiences with all of us.

The Answer:

Dear Friend,
I really wish there were a simple answer to this question.  Have you heard this little song?

I love it because it confirms the universal nature of this problem.  Children hate going to bed.  I've always laughed at the irony of things--how I'd love to have someone lead me to a quiet room every day and order me to take a nap, how I'd enjoy being congratulated for eating everything on my plate--and even seconds!, how I'd jump at the chance to go to bed every night at a regular time--undisturbed til morning.  Just about the time human beings  make the shift to loving sleep, it becomes a vice instead of a virtue.  But that is the way of things.

There are people who are extremely structured about bedtimes, but I've always wondered how they did it.  Because young children have such varied schedules--some days they take a late nap, some days no nap, some days tired, some days not so much, bedtimes vary somewhat.  I just watched for the signs that my children were tired.  If they napped til four in the afternoon, they probably wouldn't go to be til I did.   On an ideal day, my little children would all take a nap or have a good rest right after lunch so they were ready for bed by 7:30 or 8:00, but like me, they didn't always stick to that schedule.  I wasn't one to put them in bed at 7:00 no matter what and then battle with them for 2 hours because they really weren't tired.  I just tried to read their cues. 

But I understand that many women like to have several hours of uninterrupted time with their husband at night.  We weren't like that so much.  We didn't mind having a child up if they were pleasant and not tired.  When they got tired, we put them to bed.  Around school age, we established a pretty firm bedtime that seemed natural.  Even now, we have scripture study at 8:30 and then bed.  Our children  fall into that routine easily at that age and our older teenagers choose their bedtime.
Good luck.  You're not alone in the bedtime battle.


  1. One thing that my mom did when we were little that helped us stay in bed was to let us listen to something (in bed, with the lights off) before we went to sleep. Most often, we listened to Scripture Scouts and all six of us have such fond memories of these times. More often than not, it was entertainment enough to keep us in bed and usually we'd fall asleep before the tape (I guess now it'd be a CD) was even over.

  2. I'm so glad I'm not alone in this struggle! Anyone have an idea for a 2 year old who has decided that morning now comes at 3:00 A.M.?

  3. I love all of Jane's posts, but the ones about sleep have me more baffled than anything. I don't think I'm really picky with my kids. I let them do their thing. I try to feed them healthy, though, and get them decent sleep. But the sleep is a battle. I wish I could just put them to sleep when they are tired. But for my 15 mo old, that never happens. She's tired, then over tired. The other night, I did battle her for 2 hours, but it was after 10:00 pm before she goes to sleep. She was tired. She'd been rubbing her eyes, just before I tried to put her down. And she fought and fought. I think she's just really strong-willed. I'm trying to be sweet about it, not harsh, but I think she would never sleep if I didn't make her, until she finally crashed, in exhaustion. She'd probably end up with 9 hours of sleep a day. I seriously just don't get it. I love every post, but the sleep ones, they just seem so simple. I'm not even trying to be strict with a time or anything. But I want her to be rested and not crabby...

  4. I follow a bit after supernanny...keep putting the child back to bed, no further talking, until (hopefully) they stop fighting it and go to bed.

    Doesn't always happen for me either though. Sometimes I am too darn tired to fight with the kids and it can get frustrating.

    Sometimes we "role play" the nighttime routine before bedtime starts...that way they know what I expect and what they need to do too.

    Rewards about the next day help for older kids too for good bedtime behavior (a playdate, pick out your own breakfast, etc)

  5. For what it's worth, here's my experience (which is significantly less than Jane's) This is one thing I got stricter on because it worked better for us when I was. Our kids used to go to bed whenever we noticed they were tired and they were always so cranky. Finally we just decided bedtime was 8:00 (8:30 in summer) and stuck with it. We got an easy routine: pjs, scripture, prayer, brush teeth, story, sleep. It took about a month before they got used to it. But it has really helped. It's not perfect, especially if they've been doing something fun and are wound up (you can't control everything). But on normal nights we try to be home by 7 and they get a chance to calm down. We also learned from having movie nights that tv/computer really gets them wound up so that has to be off at night.

  6. I disagree. I don't think you should let a child stay up just because they don't want to go to bed. That teaches them that they can get away with other things if they are just more stubborn than you.

    If she really is not tired, take away her nap during the day or wake her up 30 minutes earlier in the morning. We put up a very sturdy baby gate at the top of the stairs and we hung out downstairs until our daughter learned that there was no point in coming out of her room because she was stuck upstairs!

  7. Okay, to the person who wrote the question, I just recently (like the last 5 days) found something that has been helpful. My son is 3 1/2, and does the same thing. It drives me nuts. He even asks for new pillow cases, or dumb stuff like that. My 15 mo old was also starting (again for the gagillionth time) to have major problems (as I explained above). It was really annoying, frustrating, and I'm pregnant and extremely tired.

    So what we did? We put them in the same room. I thought it'd be counterproductive, but it has helped so much. They both complain a little, for a few minutes, but then they settle down and go to sleep. I think having someone in there with them is really comforting. The last few nights have been so so SO much better. So if you have someone you can put your 3 1/2 in with, I'd recommend it.

  8. My daughter started doing this, so instead of shutting her in her room and waiting for her to come out, I closed the door ALMOST all the way, then peeked in. And the second she started getting out of bed I'd open the door and tell her to lay back down. It was annoying, but it only took a couple days.

    Also, she has a lot harder time going to sleep if she's already tired. So I put her to bed while she's still in a good mood. If she seems like she's genuinely not tired, but I feel it's time for bed, we go in her room and turn on the nightlight and read a book, and THEN she lays down.

  9. After reading some of the comments I wonder if it would help just to be there by their side as they fall asleep. As Erin said in her second comment, having someone there with you is comforting. Not being a mother yet, I don't have a lot of experience to back it up, but I know I fall asleep more quickly when my husband is home and in bed with me than when he is out of town. I don't think it's indulgent or going to let them think they can "get away" with other things. I think it will help them feel loved, and really that's a lot of what Jane's method is all about, as far as I understand it. I remember in an early post her saying that she tries to treat her kids as she would want to be treated. So rather than training them to be good little machines that hopefully react the same way each day to the discipline we are giving them, maybe we should try and figure out how we might be feeling if we were them. Maybe tonight (and the next several months) they just really need to fall asleep in your arms. And maybe that's ok. It won't last forever. Few things do.

  10. Jane, I just found your blog through Natalie's blog, and I have to say that I love it. I just spent a good 20 minutes ignoring my children at bedtime so I could read through some of your past posts. :) Hope you'll keep it up! I'll be bookmarking it so I can check back often- you've got a ton of experience and advice that all of us can use!

    ~Rachel (Burnham)

  11. A lot of great feedback. We've had similar issues - I'm sure we all have. I have 6 kids from 11 years down to newborn. I think the age old advice of picking your battles is a good one here. Some parents don't mind having the kids up, some parents need the time and space that comes with bedtime. I'm the kind of parent that needs my time and space - especially when they're little - for my own sanity. I need room to breathe and feel like me, and that is the reason that when my older ones weren't going to bed ever and constantly getting out of bed I found myself getting grouchier and grouchier. I tried not to, and I prayed like crazy. My husband and I decided that while it was a battle worth fighting, it was also turning us into grouchy parents who got frustrated with their kids a lot. So what to do? After praying we came up with a simple solution. Some parents think its a great idea - others think it's horrible. But I'll just say it was exactly what we needed. We put a lock on the door - from the outside, so they couldn't just walk out. We would go see what they needed if they knocked, we made sure they had their drinks, and diapers changed and all of that, potty breaks, the works. But it discouraged them from just running out every few seconds and gave us the sanity break we needed. Once they were asleep we'd unlock the door, that way if they needed anything during the night they could come find us. It has made bedtime much more pleasant rather than a battle zone.

  12. I agree with a consistent bedtime and not letting kids stay up just because they want to. But I agree with what Jane is saying about the varied schedules. My 3 year old is done with daytime naps, but every once in a while he falls asleep during the day, usually in the car. If he falls asleep, even just for 15 minutes, he truly is not tired until 10pm (his regular bedtime is 7:30). I have a hard time making him stay in his room for hours when he's wide awake (he will just stay in there, kind of miraculous), so those nights I will let him stay out as long as he's being pleasant, like Jane said. Although I am definitely the kind of person that enjoys my child-free time at night, I can handle it occasionally.

    Jane, where did you go?


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