Winning the Bedtime Battle


If you have a difficult time getting your child to go to bed at night, the first step is to figure out why your child says, “But I’m not tired!” Is he in need of more attention? Is he scared of the dark? Is he feeling the need to assert his independence? Or the answer could be that he really isn’t tired. Your child may have a natural inclination to be alert late at night. In order to reduce your child’s resistance, think about his stage of maturation, his bedtime routine, and any important changes in his life such as a divorce or death in the family.

Insecurity and Distractions

Many children are afraid of being alone in a dark room. According to Cliff Siegel, M.D., as quoted by Sarah Hutter in the article “I’m Not Tired!” “It leaves them to their own imaginations, and it’s easy for them to envision monsters in the closet or under the bed.”

Your child could also be experiencing a bit of separation anxiety. Does she have a hard time going to daycare or the babysitter’s? She could be feeling some of that same worry when she has to leave you to go to bed at night. 

The continued noise and activity level in the house at your child’s bedtime may be distracting her from falling asleep. She may be afraid she is missing out on the fun, and will maintain, “I’m not tired!” In these circumstances, consider the following solutions.

Tackle Fears

Talk to your child about his fears and kindly explain that he is safe and you won’t let anything happen to him. Let him keep his door open a crack, and keep the hall light on. According to Hutter, you should not offer to stay by his side until he falls asleep. Dr. Siegel warns this could make your child become dependent on your presence every night.

Set Routines and Establish a Consistent Bedtime

Give your child at least half an hour to relax and get ready to go to bed. Comforting rituals include taking baths and reading bedtime stories. Hutter offers that “predictability will increase your child’s sense of security.” Once you choose a bedtime that will give your child enough sleep, be sure to enforce it. Eleven to twelve hours is the typical amount of sleep needed by a three to five year old. All children benefit from a regular sleep schedule.

Bedtime Rebellion and Desire for Extra Attention

Your child could be saying, “I’m not tired,” in order to challenge your authority and practice her 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.

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 p.m. and why your child thinks it should be at nine. 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.”