How can we get past nightly bedtime battle w/ 5 1/2 y.o.? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 14 Old 10-14-2009, 11:38 PM - Thread Starter
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My DH would prefer that I call it a "challenge," but in reality it is a battle, and we face it each and every night with our feisty, spirited 5 1/2 y.o. daughter. Honestly, I cannot remember a night that we didn't have this battle in some form - it dates to at least age 3 1/2 and it has only become progressively worse.

Honestly, over this time we have tried any and all advice that we can obtain from books, the web, our pediatrician, friends, you name it.

We start the wind-down at a reasonable time, anticipating up to 90+ minutes between wind down and DD falling asleep. We try to be as positive as possible, following a routine that we alter as necessary, encouraging, non-punitive and to reward good behavior. Charts...logical consequences..."rationalizing" with her...explaining that she needs sleep to stay smart and strong...even explaining that all she needs to do is stay in bed but daddy and mommy have to have sleep in order to have fun with her tomorrow. But it never works for long, if it works at all.

We are demoralized and discouraged. I could deal with this if it averaged out to be every other night, but it is every single night. By the time DD is finally asleep (and it doesn't seem to matter whether she's had 10 hours or 8 hours sleep in the previous night), we are so stressed and frustrated with each other and the experience that we barely talk to each other as we retreat into bed, and then I lie there worrying that with insufficient sleep she'll be more vulnerable to illness (her Kindergarten teacher says that she seems well rested enough, and the pediatrician thinks she's just one of those kids who does fine on 9 to 10 hours...but if we let her sleep as long as she wants, she will go as long as 11).

And then, the next morning, having to wake her for's the bookend to the same nightmare!

With the exception of bedtime and wake-up, DD is the most charming, delightful and delicious little girl you could hope for. Is a reasonable, predictable (at least some of the time) bedtime routine too much to ask for?

Thanks in advance...
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#2 of 14 Old 10-15-2009, 12:52 AM
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I'm a little confused. What actually happens at bedtime? What does your dd do? Does it just take a long time to fall asleep or is she refusing to go into her bed?

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#3 of 14 Old 10-15-2009, 01:43 AM
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We've struggled with bedtime issues also (still do, really), with our 6-yo, so I know how stressful that whole issue can be.

Is the biggest problem in your bedtime routine that she gets back out of bed? Can you lay in bed with her until she falls asleep? My DS sometimes gets very bouncy at bedtime, but lately he's been good about staying calm and quiet if DH or I lay in bed with him until he falls asleep (usually within 20 minutes of lights off).
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#4 of 14 Old 10-15-2009, 01:54 AM
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What if you were to get her clothes ready the night before, put them in the car and have her change into them once she arrives at school? (in the back of the car, in a private area?) Or get her clean and changed into her clothes for the next day and have her sleep in the clothing all night, then tell her she can stay in her room, with a light on, and go to sleep whenever she wants (but cannot leave the room) and try that out for a week and see what happens?

Personally, I'd drop all the struggles and carry my sleeping child to the car in the morning for a while, until my child decided that he/she preferred to dress themselves at home, first.
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#5 of 14 Old 10-15-2009, 11:48 AM - Thread Starter
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Thank you for your posts so far. The biggest problem is that it is a problem every step of the way.

After dinner, we move to quiet games or mellow art activities. The gentle suggestion that it's time to brush teeth and put on jammies unleashes the first round of struggles. What happens, we never know. She can get combative or destructive, seeking some kind of negative attention from which ever of us isn't with her at the moment (oh how we try not to respond negatively, but by that hour we're often spent).

Or, she will feign injury, claiming she can't walk so that someone (namely Daddy) has to carry all 45 pounds of her to the bathroom. Suddenly, a newly discovered bruise that hasn't bothered her before makes it impossible to walk. We try not to cave, because it only reinforces the behavior, on the other hand, sometimes you have to do what you have to do to move the process along, even if it means carrying her. Once she has brushed her teeth and it's time to go to bed, you never know what's going to happen. She might repeat all of the above, or some other tactic we cannot plan for because we don't anticipate it. We used to read stories, first one from DH, then one from me, then a final snuggle...and yes, either one of us usually has to lie with her, but these days even that doesn't work, she starts kicking us, sitting on our heads, everything except lying quietly -- we calmly tell her that if she's not still we'll leave, then she screams or runs out of bed etc. etc. I've even resorted to 20-minute foot massages using lavender oil (these are actually fun for both of us), because once she is still, she will finally go to sleep. But often now she won't even lie for this, and continually runs into our room, into the living room, jumping on beds, you name it.

She takes the bus to school and we live in an apartment three flights up (no elevator). Carrying her into our car in the garage of the building across the street isn't an option. As I mentioned, she weighs 45 pounds.

And, as I also mentioned in my first post, she is overall a good natured, cooperative (if feisty) child who in every other situation responds well to techniques I learned reading "The Explosive Child" and "Playful Parenting."
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#6 of 14 Old 10-15-2009, 01:53 PM
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this sounds similar to what we are experiencing with our 3year old. hugs to you. now i'm listening in...
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#7 of 14 Old 10-15-2009, 02:52 PM
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I know you've probably tried it all.

How does she react when you put her to bed earlier or later than her usual time?
Does she nap regularly or occasionally, and if so, how does that affect her bedtime?
Is she better or worse on an exhausting day- one with a lot of outdoor time and exercise?
Does she comply better for one parent or do you tag-team?

I have a 5 1/2YO DD too. Our routine is pretty similar to yours, though thankfully shorter, so you're doing nothing wrong. After stories my DD likes to listen to books on CD that we get from the library (Magic Tree House) or sometimes she looks at maze or find the hidden picture type books. Usually she falls asleep within a short time but sometimes she pops back downstairs after an hour or more of listening to her CD. I figure that on those nights she just needs less sleep. My DH or I walk her back to bed and sometimes we talk about the next day, trying to calm her and help her to focus on something pleasant.

Sometimes when my DD is wound up (she takes asthma meds which often cause her to get a bit wild) we do the routine part early- right after dinner- and then do the quiet family time. Then she can look forward to the fun after she gets all ready for bed. This has helped take the struggle out of the teeth brushing, though it doesn't solve the bedtime dilemma.

Mornings are tough for us too. My DD has to be at school at 8, an hour earlier than preschool last year, and no one in our family is a morning person. I implemented a rule when school started that breakfast would only be served to those fully dress with shoes on and hair brushed. My 5 1/2 and 3 yo both follow the rule (even on weekends). Thankfully, unlike my DH, my girls both really like breakfast.

I hope you work through this. I know it's tough to enjoy the evening when everyone gets worked up at bedtime.
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#8 of 14 Old 10-16-2009, 02:28 AM
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The situation sounds incredibly trying. My little brother was like this and mother struggled for many years. It sounds totally like a personality thing that may just have to run its coarse. Since you said you have tried all the obvious ways of getting her to comply, what about letting her watch TV after the routine and she is in bed? (This would be a big no no in my house but really after what you have described I'd let my dd do it.) Or an actually bribe? I know I am not giving the best advice and certainly if you don't want to parent this way don't do it. But during a couple of really difficult times I have broken down and been like look if you do this I will give you this... and it works.

I don't know, I can't imagine the stress of this situation. I would almost do anything to change the pattern.
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#9 of 14 Old 10-16-2009, 10:44 AM
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Oh I'm so sorry you have troubled bedtimes. We do too some nights... I don't know if you've tried this, but what really helped us was sitting down with our 6 year old and asking her to design a bedtime routine.

During the day, when you are both were rested and in a good mood, try writing out a routine that she comes up with? If you make sure it has all the necessary things like teeth brushing, maybe she would enjoy having control over what happens and when?

Also, we asked out daughter what was causing the troubles at night, and she told us she would really prefer to have it darker in her room. We though she needed the comfort of having the hall light on, and in reality she didn't want the light at all! The light was making it hard for her to settle down. Maybe if you ask your daughter what she needs or wants or is worried about at bedtime she can help create a good bedtime atmosphere for herself?

I hope you find something that helps. I know how stressed out you must be.
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#10 of 14 Old 10-16-2009, 12:49 PM
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Let HER choose her sleep time.
I was that dd is that kid.
routines are NOt for everyone. In fact, some of us will fight them just on principle.
I will tell you, it will continue forever. i personally continued it forever, until I got older and my parents stopped trying to make me sleep when they wanted me to sleep.
You can't do that. It's insane. do you also try to make her pee or poo on command, or breathe in a pattern you dictate? sleep is like that. It a normal bodily function. Some of us do it differently than others.

Honestly...just stop. Stop trying to control her. My dd frequently goes to bed at midnight...1 am. She still has to get up at 7:30 to go to school.
Depending on how much/little sleep she got the night before, she might take an afternoon nap after school. But she actually does a great job of regulating her total sleep.
Of course she gets combative after dinner as you start your "routine"'s pretty much like you are taking her to the dentist, or to get a shot..EVERY night. dinner is over, and she knows the process to FORCE her to do something she doesn't want to do has begun. So, she starts fighting. I would too.

Explain to her that you AREN'T going to force her to go to sleep. Tell her that she is a big girl, and can go to sleep when she wants, but she will need to get up inthe morning for school without complaint (although that's a bit much to truly expect at first..her body will need time to adjust, since she will surely take advantage the first couiple nights and get vry tired before she starts to self-regulate).

You are choosing to make your life a constant battle
YOU are CHOOSING. You are trying to stuff a round peg in a square hole. and it's hard.
do you really WANT your life to be a constant battle? i mean, hey, that;'s your choice, but I prefer NOT to constantly fight.
So..just STOP. Stop fighting her. See what happens.
now..I'm perfectly willing to admit this won't work for everybody. Heck - It might make things worse. sure, I'll admit that.
but..what have you got to lose? You're already unhappy and figthing every single night. and it might work. In fact, chances are, the bedtime she will choose for herself probably wont be much later than the one you choose for's making it her choice that makes all the difference.

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#11 of 14 Old 10-16-2009, 03:35 PM - Thread Starter
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Wow, thank you everyone.

First off, some good news: yesterday evening, for the first time, Part 1 of bedtime came off smoothly -- after spending a solid hour on her own coloring (she is "high needs" and will rarely entertain herself), DD happily went to brush her teeth and put on her jammies. Settling her in for the night was still a low grade struggle, but that was mainly because she was so tired from the night before.

I am now rereading two books that were helpful when I first consulted them, and will be helpful now (given DD's personality I will need some kind of "hybrid" approach).

The first is Ross Greene's "The Explosive Child." I am about to print out, in a very large typeface, for DH and I to read over and over again, the observation that "An explosive outburst - like other forms of maladaptive behavior - occurs when the cognitive demands being placed upon a person outstrip that person's capacity to respond adaptively." Totally, totally, totally (for us grown-ups too).

The second is "Raising Your Kids without Raising Your Voice."

I agree that we have to get into a routine (or non-routine) that suits DD's personality. Quiet activities seem to work best. She does not (and will not) have a t.v. in her room. It is not relaxing for her, and one of the reasons Monday was such a particular problem was that we had to keep her in front of the t.v. until much later than usual, so DH (who is in business for himself) could meet a deadline.

Part of Ross Greene's advice is to avoid the fight or power struggle. I think there can be a happy medium between our needs late in the night, and her choosing for herself. One of the reasons this is really our only problem area (besides the overtiredness) is that we have taken that approach with respect to everything else.

To answer others' question - she does not (and will not) nap. She stopped napping at home shortly after turning 2, and that, too, was a "struggle" (I tried driving her around for up to 90 minutes, till I realized it was a waste of gas and time) I gave up early on.

In terms of rewards, Dr. Greene says the lack of a power struggles and smoother relations are a big reward in themselves. We have seen this over time, because I have to say that, since around age 3 when this problem emerged, we have gone through better phases and worse.

She's just that kind of kid and as we always tell them "you get what you get and you don't get upset."

I feel a whole lot better. I have to remember to see all this in light of the "big picture."
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#12 of 14 Old 10-26-2009, 11:50 AM
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Sorry, no advice. It just sounds so familiar I had to post. I know how exhausting and emotionally draining it can be. Sometimes I just dread bedtime. I would love it too be a snuggly time of connection, but it ends up being a battle almost always, and afterward it feels like I am in shock for a while and end up just going to bed too.

My ds sounds similar. I would love to know how you have avoided struggles in other areas-food, clothes, getting ready etc. My ds is 6 1/2 and parenting has been more challenging than I could ever have imagined ( and rewarding in so many ways-I will always remind my self of that).

Thanks for the thread.
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#13 of 14 Old 11-03-2009, 10:11 AM
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Bedtime used to be playtime for my older two. They used to stay up until 10 or 11 p.m. playing in their bedroom. We started letting them listen to some guided meditation cd's, and now they are usually asleep before they end. We want them sleeping by 8:00 p.m. So, we do bathtime and pj's at 6:30. They are in bed by 7:00 p.m. and start listening to the 1 hour cd's. They love the stories so much that they are motivated to get dressed and lay in bed without playing. If they do give us a hard time getting their jammies on or by playing in bed, we turn off the cd early. They don't like that, so the next night is usually a bit smoother!

We use Indigo Dreams and Jim Weiss Good Night and Jim Weiss Sweet Dreams.

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#14 of 14 Old 11-05-2009, 08:56 PM
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It might be time to resort to bribery

My son is also quite spirited and persistent, and a little bit of careful, temporary bribery can sometimes work wonders. 10 days of the promise of a Kinder Surprise at breakfast following a good night's sleep did more good than the advice of a half-dozen sleep solution books at our house. The benefit of breaking a persistent bad habit, IMHO, outweighs having junk-food in the morning.

I can't remember exactly how we eliminated the bribe, but I think we went to giving a treat every other morning, or moving to progressively smaller treats (a sucker, then a jelly-bean, then a sticker).

Obviously you can't bribe your child for every little thing and eventually they should be able to do what they're supposed to do just because it's what is expected, not because they get something for it. But joyfully giving a "gift" to celebrate good behaviour can totally change the dynamic in the house and stop the fighting and create calmness and good feelings all around. Bribes are still a bit of a last resort strategy, but they can help create a win-win situation and get everyone some rest!

Married to DH in '99, DS born 2004, DD born Sept 19, 2009!
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