Many parents believe that
six- to nine-year-olds should go to bed on their own without
arguing, and when their own child doesn’t, they feel frustrated.
They get tired of saying, “Brush your teeth.” “Now put on your
pajamas.” “Now put your clothes away.” They also are bothered if she
dawdles or gets up once she’s been put to bed.
Independent bedtime habits develop slowly. Most children can fall
asleep without having their parents stay with them, and many can
take care of their middle-of-the-night needs: going to the bathroom,
getting a drink, finding an extra blanket. However, it’s still
common for young children to need help at bedtime. Most require
prodding at night and some won’t get ready at all unless their
parents guide them through almost every step of the process. All
these reminders are necessary because they have difficulty
separating themselves from their activities. They’d much rather
continues playing or watching TV. And because bedtime is of no
interest to them, they’re easily distracted and need to be kept on
track. The procrastination that bothers so many parents is the
result of the young child’s inability to focus on something she
doesn’t want to do.
Children this age also need their parents for bedtime rituals, which
continue to be important. Some kids can’t go to sleep without a
story, a conversation, or a hug and a kiss. In busy families or on
rushed days, bedtime may be the only time parents and children have
While most children need some parental help at night, if your child
has consistent trouble at bedtime, try to find out why. Observe her
and talk to her about the problem. Depending on her age, there might
be a simple explanation. Perhaps she’s hungry and needs a snack in
the evening. She may avoid bedtime because she’s afraid of imaginary
creatures or the dark and wants to put off going to sleep as long as
possible. If that’s the case, spend fifteen minutes or so in her
room while she falls asleep; try keeping a light on at night or
suggesting that she sleep with a personal treasure or newly received
gift. She may also sleep more securely in a room shared with a
Your child may have trouble because she simply isn’t tired. Some
parents, understandably eager for time alone in the evenings, set
early bedtimes without considering their child’s actual sleep needs.
If you know that your child isn’t sleepy, you can send her to bed
later or set a flexible bedtime, including later hours on weekends.
As an alternative to changing her bedtime, you can stick to the
early hour but allow her to do something quiet in her room, such as
read, draw, do a puzzle, or listen to music before she falls asleep.
If her bedtime problems just seem to be habitual, you’ll have to set
limits and tell her the consequences of too much dawdling: “If you
don’t get ready quickly, you won’t have time to play before bed.”
“When you take so long to get in bed, I don’t have time to read to
you.” It’s important to anticipate evening struggles rather than let
annoyances build up to an angry battle of wills.
You also can try rewarding your child for getting ready on time: “If
you’re in bed in five minutes, I’ll let you listen to a tape before
you fall asleep.” One child would get ready quickly in order to hear
favorite stories about her family.
Bedtime will be less stressful if you try to be patient and remember
that your child will gradually assume her own bedtime
responsibilities. Meanwhile, as long as she responds to your
reminders and does get ready, you don’t have to worry or feel
defeated. If there are evening arguments, try to resolve them with a
bedtime talk. Discuss what happened that day, tell your child about
something exciting that’s coming up, suggest that you both try a
little harder to cooperate with each other, and remind her of how
special she is.