When your child just doesn’t want to go to sleep 20

What do you do when you have a child that just refuses to go off to sleep?  I wish I knew.  Maxi has always gone to bed like a dream and when his head hits that pillow he is off in the land of Nod till six am ish.  Mini, however, is another story.  He needs his sleep and is a monster without it, as most children are, but he has this ability to fight going off to sleep.

It started when he was around 3 years old and I put a lot of it down to the fact that I had been in and out of hospital and made allowances for him and for me. But the fact is he is five and a half and still doesn’t want to go to bed on a night and will make every excuse under the sun to stay up or find a reason to get up.  My tummy is hurting, I have earache, I am hold, I am hot, I need a drink, I am hungry, I am scared and so on and so on.  The fact is that both me and MadDad had let it go on to long and we were tired.  Tired of the relentless taking him back up to bed, tired of not having our evenings together, tired of one or the other giving in and cuddling Mini either upstairs or downstairs and just plain exhausted by it all.

We have tried everything, we have books in his bedroom for him to read, no screen time after 6pm, lavender in his room, blackout blinds and a nightlight too.  It is not a matter of him just staying in his room, it is a matter of him actually going to sleep and getting  enough rest.

So inspired by my great bloggy friend Kelly, who has stood firm with Piran and changed bedtimes for the better, we decided that we needed to provide a united front and soldier on with a bedtime routine and stick to it.  Having used a relax kids CD in the past to help with Mini’s anger management issues, we downloaded an MP3 about wizards (mini is Harry Potter mad), drew a reward chart together and made some firm rules.  Mini could get his reward, a special Olympic London bus once he had filled each window with a smiling face.  It is early days yet, but I have high hopes.

How do you deal with a child that just will not go to sleep?

20 thoughts on “When your child just doesn’t want to go to sleep

  • Kelloggsville

    My daughter was exactly the same at 5 and still is at 13. Did you see this http://kelloggsville.blogspot.com/2011/12/who-stole-my-bedtime-routine.html ? I was going to suggest the reward chart just like you have done but to be honest I never have found the answer. I suspect she’s just a night owl and will be able to dance all night once she starts clubbing. It affects my sanity though. It drives me bloomin mad. I even tried phernergan for a while but quickly realised drugs weren’t te answer either. Just a bit more patience from me. A say a lot of things like ’15 minutes proper relaxation s as good as an hours sleep’ to her as she worries more and more about how late it is and getting up. Sorry no answers just sharing.

    • Mum in the Madhouse

      Kelloggsville » I am hoping that the relax kids MP3 gives him some tools to wind down, as I think that that is a big part of the issue. I suffer from terrible insomnia and always have even as a child I managed n 4 hours sleep. It isn’t ideal and I remember my parents drugging me and that terrible foggy feeling it left me with, so do not want to go down that road with Mini. Sometimes it is just like looking in the mirror, he is so like me it scares me!

  • Julie

    I can imagine how hard this must be for you, mad dad and mini. Our Finn (Finlay too, maybe its the name!) has terrible trouble dropping off to sleep. He wasn’t very happy as a baby and I think it was often because he needed to sleep but couldn’t. We had a really bad patch with him when he was about 3, I think, and in the end being very firm and disciplined was the only way to get him to stay in his bed and room….didn’t make him fall asleep though. He’s not had any problems going to bed since the but still struggles to fall asleep, especially if he is extra tired, excited or worried – I think he’ll always be like that. Good luck with your little Finlay. Juliex

    • Mum in the Madhouse

      Julie » Maybe it is all in the name! I wouldn’t mind so much if he wasn’t just so terrible the next day, he really is a much nicer boy when he has had enough sleep.

  • Emily O

    It’s a tricky one, especially as difficulty getting to sleep or refusing to go to sleep can sometimes be linked to emotional issues. My middle son had been quite a bad sleeper although if he gets worn out in the day he’s better. I’m guessing Mini is worn out by school though so that can’t be it. I guess lots of reassurance hand in hand with firmness helps. Once it’s bedtime I have as little to do with the children as possible so if they want something or won’t settle I speak to them as little as people and reinforce the fact it’s bedtime and I’m signing off for the day. I think reward charts can work really well, we have a problem with the boys getting up too early and reward charts have really fixed that behaviour. They now wait until a certain time before getting up. It’s hard work, good luck x

    • Mum in the Madhouse

      Emily O » I need to be a little firmer with Mini. I guess that I can be a soft touch sometimes. last night was a challenge, but I stood firm

  • Susan Mann

    Good plan. I have a reward chart for both the boys, they have 5 things they have to do well one of which is sleep all night. If they get 5 stickers they get a sticker to wear to bed. Crazy I know but L loves stickers. If they get all or make up for any missed they get a reward or pocket money at the weekend. They definitely sleep better & are better behaved with the reward chart. Good luck x

  • Emma

    Chick is exactly the same and it takes her a good two hours to fall asleep at night!! We now have a deal that as long as she is in bed and reading or writing and not shouting downstairs she can stay awake! We tried everything and nothing worked, the kid just doesn’t need more than 9 hours a night….unlike her poor Mother 😉 x

  • Liz C

    I’m 29 now so 2 decades ago when I was sent to bed there was no wind down time, no relaxing the kids, no lavender flavoured bath squirty soap and no slack… 8pm BED.
    As much as i look for opportunities to spoil my kids (8 years, 6years, 3years) theyre in bed by 8 and dead to the world 15 to 30 minutes later. My children are VERY overactive and although theyre not what you would call badly behaved theyre no angels. BUT… hook or by crook theyre in bed by 8.
    I was told when i was little that 8pm onwards was adult time, it wasnt case of being cruel (like it isnt now) but my mother took those couple of hours before she went to bed for herself…. as I do now.
    If you dont teach children while young to respect YOUR time and space you will only ever be a taxi, laundrette, cook, cleaner etc to them.
    Thats how i think of it anyway… restoring order to chaos… even if its only for a couple of hours on an evening. Lol.
    Children shouldnt have to be ‘rewarded’ for ever action. They should do some things because theyre told to.

  • Mum in the Madhouse

    Hi Liz and thank you for your comment. I too was brought up the same and really wish it was as easy as that. Maxi does go to bed between 7 and 7.30 each night and stays in bed until he is asleep, but Mini is a different animal. I too didn’t sleep well as a child and stayed in my bedroom on a night by fear of my mum or dad smacking me if I came down stairs. This is not something I want my children to feel. I do not think it is a matter of respect, I hope it isnt, it is a matter of sitting down and being able to go to sleep, retraining his body to relax and let sleep come. He fights it. I do not normally rely on reward charts, but feel that I am at the end of my tether with things, I need this time on a night, so that me and MadDad can have our time together.

  • Liz C

    My parents were very old fashioned when it came to child rearing… I cringe when i tell the children off for something and my mothers voice comes out. lol. Saying that i was youngest of eight so some ground rules are probably what kept things running ‘reasonably’ smoothly.

    My littlest (being about 3.5 now) has started to question things… not nice questions like where do babies come from, but why do i need to wear pants, but the tap looks prettier left on and why eat dinner when theres pudding… so far (fingers, toes and eyes crossed) she wont figure out she can question bed time for a while.

    //////Just incase you spot me … Im the semi hysterical mother you’ll see in the town telling her bright red embarassed older children to hold onto the buggy at all times like 2 year olds… Im like the hyacinth bucket of taking the kids on an outing…” look out for that car!” “mum its on the other side of the road and we’re on the pavement.”//////

  • Kelly

    I love my sleep and find it so odd that my children seem to be completely different to me! I have no sage advice, but I am always here with words of encouragement and support, stay firm and stick to the rules and I hope that you will find a solution.

  • swanbythelakeside

    Your Comments
    My dd was just the same at five. And she needed her sleep, (brilliant sleeper as baby and never woke in the night ever as toddler, child) so I think it was an emotional thing about bedtime that needed to be addressed, rather than being strict. She just couldn’t relax enough to sleep, which I think is possibly what you are referring to when you said you understood his difficulties.

    We had tears and tantrums, windups and standoffs, you will stay in your room, you will go to sleep for at least 10 months. Then I thought, sod that, and this is what worked with me. I stopped wrestling and just read her a story in bed at 8pm Then she fell asleep almost immediately next to me with the light off by 8.30pm, and me in bed next to her. And woke next morning refreshed (usually) at 8am.

    Now the only problem with this was that I usually fell asleep too…BUT.I reckon the whole manoeuvre took 30 mins compared to the frustration of spending 45 mins not quite getting someone to go to sleep, putting them back in their room etc. And we always parted on excellent terms by this method, with a lovely cuddle. I still do it now she is 9. Not every night. But It has changed things for us.

    I reckon she was so tightly wound that lying next to me was the only thing that allowed her to tune out. She can go to sleep happily by herself now and has since she was 7; I think the intervention was a source of great reassurance to her which overspilled to her sleep routine in general.

    I used to have terrible nightmares as a child in which I was looking for my parents. According to my mother we were v easy to put to bed (she had four) but I wonder at what cost our obedience was won. I certainly never remember my mum sitting and chatting with me at bedtime (and I wish she had – we had no close chats as a result), although I had aupairs who did. I think all children like a bedtime “prescence” you onlyhave to read that bit in Mary Poppins book where Michael and Jane surrender to sleep in the delicious knowledge that Mary Poppins is in the same room doing the mending…

  • swanbythelakeside

    Your Comments
    I don’t think this problem is a new one either. My dad had a very strict old fashioned upbringing with nannies etc, and he said he remembered this moment aged 3 or 4 of hanging over the topfloor bannisters seeing his mum giving a dinner party and being much to frightened to go down and tell her he had just thrown up. Don’t know where the nanny was!

    An alternative aproach would be to tackle staying in his bedroom rather than hm actually sleeping. I think reward charts don’t really tackle the problem which is that he can’t get to sleep, not that he is deliberately being disobedient. However you could change tack and say, I don’t need you to sleep, But what I want you to do, is just stay in your bed reading to yourself, talking to your animals, and see whether that was sufficiently a winding down process that he was eventually able to fall asleep by himself. I think there is a lot to be said for rest, even if it is not “sleep”. So the habit could be to stay in your bed, and disturb no-one rather than go to sleep. Do they have the same room, is that part of the dynamic that he is lonely once his brother has dropped off?
    And you could fiddle the clocks too so that you could start the process earlier.
    I think when you have a very busy day and lots to process it is very very hard to tune out, however tired you are. Although exercise and fresh air helps, not very easy to achieve in the winter is it?

  • Emma

    Try focusing on the morning not the night- worked a treat for me.

    Both my children from six months( one is ony seven months so early days) sleep from seven thirty till whenever I get up in the morning- often around eight (I know- mums hate me) some times I have woken up at nine and they are still in bed wiating for me.

    We are strict with bedtime a la supernanny- they are put to bed then put straight back if they wander- any bad behaviour is dealt with the next morning. Wandering or crying maybe lasted for about a week at the start and is limited to maybe once a year.

    My main trick which I have never ever heard of but seems to have worked a treat (unless I am very blessed with very good children) is what I call the ‘morning song’ .I make sure that I go to my childrens rooms when I decide it is morning put on the light on dance around the room like a loon singing ‘good morning’ from singing in the rain’ curling up in the bed with them for a quick five minute cuddle and generally being the most fun, loving attentive parent I can be. – my elder daughter will not leave her bed till I go to get her, and I have heard my seven month son on the monitor getting the sniging started at sixx in the morning but waiting till I go in. In the early stages you do have to get in their early, before they wake. You only do this if they do not get out of bed or cry….YOU MUST GET TO THEM BEFORE THIS HAPPENS so they know if they wait and behave they will be rewarded.

    With questioning older children tell them the brutal truth like I have with my daugther- if our family gets tired we all get grumpy, shout at each other and generally do not have a good time.

  • Emma

    Forgot to add before you think Im completely bonkers that the morning thing tackles waking in night because instead of crying out for me when my children wake whatever time of day or night they wait to see if Ill come in then fall back asleep while waiting. Sneeky I know, but as parents we have to be a bit crafty.

    I also feel it removed the anxiety that they have been abandoned and help make the bed and sleep a happy time. ( not that I am an expert pshycology- just a hunch I have) NB- both my children before this point and this routine woke several times a night from birth and pretty much breastfed all night long refusing to go to sleep without being fed to sleep- so they are not natural good sleepers.

  • Ali

    Wish I had the answer for this, my two 12 and 10 get later and later and both do find it hard to fall asleep. Penny’s Mum tips on one of her little legacy works to help them relax.

    I end up going to bed and reading while they are still awake in bed, drawing etc. Then of course they come in and chat.

    Still before I know it they will be in the teenager stage and one want to say a word to me (!) so…. xxxx

  • Cherished By Me

    I hope it’s going well, I like your reward ideas which I may adapt for our needs as M is playing up at bedtime now. It started when he started school this month and he has always been so good at going to bed and to sleep. It’s hard work though isn’t it when it eats into your precious time in the evening. X

  • Kate

    Where do I begin? Youngling hasn’t slept properly in all his days (he will be three in March). Having suffered from Colic, and then moving house, and then the separation of his father and I he has steadily got worse with his sleep patterns. Mind you saying that now I have cut his nap time and reduced his milk intake he has been going to sleep between 7-9pm BUT will only sleep with me. He loves his room and big boy bed etc. but still now joy. Anyone want to come and stay for a week or two and help out? Lol. Super nanny didn’t reply ALL my emails! Good luck xx

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