Winning the Bedtime Battle: Bedtime Rebellion & Desire for Extra Attention


Single ParentsThere are many reasons children resist at bedtime. They don't want to stop doing what they are doing, or miss the excitement around them. He is scared of the dark, or the images and thoughts his active imagination conjures up among the shadows. But could your child be testing you when he says, "I'm not tired" when it's time for bed? Following are steps to take when your children challenge your authority or strive for attention at bedtime.

Bedtime Rebellion & Desire for Extra Attention
Your child could be saying, "I'm not tired," in order to challenge your authority and practice his manipulation skills. Children have a strong desire for control as they get older. Or, your child could have a real need for more attention. Hutter quotes Dr. Siegel as saying, "If a child needs some extra attention from a parent, he's apt to stall sleep--because calling out to a parent and postponing bedtime are good ways of getting attention." If this is your situation, try applying the following tactics.

1. Remind of the rules.
Be kind but firm about bedtime. Don't get involved in arguments about why you think bedtime should be at 8:00 and why your child thinks it should be at 9:00. It is crucial to stick to the time you've set. According to Hutter, "If you frequently give in to your child's stalling tactics and let him stay up later, you're apt to find yourself caught in a nightly power struggle."

2. Offer rewards.
You can encourage your child to get ready for bed by telling him that he can have an extra bedtime story if he is ready for bed by a certain time. Give the incentive of a special weekend outing if he is ready for bed on time all week. (If he continues to fight bedtime, however, you might consider taking away privileges.)

3. Give more attention.
Help your child look forward to bedtime as a special time to be together. Read a second bedtime story or have a good talk. If he doesn't want you to leave when it is time for him to go to sleep, remind him that you will have more time together the next day.

"I'm Really Not Tired!"
Kids fall asleep when their body temperatures drop. They wake up when their temperatures start to rise. If you try to put your child to bed before her temperature has dropped, she will be telling the truth when she says "I'm not tired!"

You can change your child's sleep pattern (the process usually takes about two weeks) by waking her up fifteen minutes earlier each day. Jamie Whyte, MD, says, "By waking your child up earlier, you'll be creating a small sleep deficit during the day. Your child will be tired and more apt to go to sleep earlier at night."

If it is also difficult to wake your child in the morning, ". . . establish a long and gentle wake-up routine," says Lynne Embry, Ph.D. Start an hour before your child really needs to get out of bed. Cover her with another blanket to raise her body temperature. Play music, and turn up the volume every fifteen minutes. Give her a glass of juice to raise her blood-sugar level.

Dr. Anthony J. LaPray, in Help for Parents, says resistance going to bed is caused by a desire to manipulate or get attention from parents. He says nagging, threatening, spanking, and scolding won't work. Even negative attention will be a reward to the child. "If you give a child attention or power," says Dr. LaPray, "the behavior will continue. If you damage the self-image, more serious problems will develop." Instead, Dr. LaPray says you should allow children to lie in bed and read or play quietly. Be sure to give praise when they cooperate at bedtime. According to Dr. LaPray, "If the issue of sleep loses its power to upset parents, children will get the sleep they need."

In Answers: A Parents' Guidebook for Solving Problems, Dr. Paul W. Robinson also supports the theory that even negative attention will inspire children to keep putting up a struggle at bedtime. He says, "When a child misbehaves, it is because such actions produce some positive satisfaction for him." Dr. Robinson is an advocate of the extinction method. This means that the misbehavior will stop if you remove the pay-off that resulted from the misbehavior in the past. Dr. Robinson says, "A child's desire to misbehave will fade when five to ten repeats of that behavior fail to produce a pay-off." If your child wails and whines when you put her to bed until you come back to read her one more story, or until you let her come back out to the TV room for an extra half-hour, you need to change your behavior if you ever hope to have your child respect her bedtime. If you stop responding in the way you have in the past, after five to ten times, your child will decide resisting bedtime is no longer worth the effort. It takes a time, patience, and persistence, but if you use the extinction method consistently, it is one of the most effective methods for stopping misbehavior.

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