The Best Discipline Strategies for Bedtime Behavior Problems

Ways to Help You and Your Child get a Full Night's Rest

Use these discipline strategies to reduce bedtime behavior problems.
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Whether your child refuses to go to bed or he insists on sleeping in your bed, bedtime behavior problems are common. Without appropriate intervention, they often grow worse.

Not only are bedtime behavior problems frustrating, but they also interfere with your child's sleep. Missing a few minutes of shut eye can be a big problem for kids. Sleep deprivation has been linked to everything from increased academic issues to elevated behavior problems.

Address bedtime behavior problems as soon as possible. Help your child get plenty of rest with these strategies:

1. Establish Bedtime Rules

Establish rules that clearly state what you expect from your child at bedtime. Establish a time for your child to start getting ready for bed and make it clear what time the lights will go out.

Teenagers may be able to handle more flexibility about bedtime. Older teens should be able to start setting their own bedtime, as long as they're able to get out of bed on time all on their own.

2. Create Healthy Bedtime Habits

Promote healthy habits to help your child wind down and get ready for bed. One way to do this is to limit screen time before bed. Watching TV, playing video games, or using a computer before bed interferes with a child’s sleep cycle.

Although many parents turn on the TV to help a child fall asleep, a study published in Pediatrics found that watching TV actually delays sleep in children.

Don’t allow your child to watch TV, play video games or use the computer within an hour of bedtime.

Watching anything scary on TV before bed can also contribute to nightmares in children. Monitor what your child watches throughout the day and pay special attention to anything your child is exposed to during the evening hours.

Allowing your child to overhear the evening news and your child overhears stories about accidents, natural disasters, and tragedies can frighten children and contribute to bad dreams.

Encourage quiet activities like reading or playing to help your child wind down before he begins getting ready for bed. Also, discuss the benefits of sleep and why it is important for your child's growing body.

3. Problem-Solve Issues Together

If your child has difficulty sleeping, problem-solve together to resolve the issue. For example, if your child refuses to stay in his own bed, talk about the reasons why he gets up so often. He may lack self-soothing skills and may need ideas for what he can do when he’s alone in bed and the house is quiet.

One common underlying problem that contributes to bedtime behavior problems is fear. If your child is scared of monsters hiding under the bed or noises coming from the closet, sometimes creative solutions can help. A nightlight, stay-away monster spray, or playing games to help your child overcome fears may be helpful.

4. Shape Your Child’s Behavior When Necessary

Sometimes behavior problems need to be addressed one step at a time. If you’re child has slept in your bed every night for four years, it may be too overwhelming for him to start sleeping in his own room upstairs all by himself all at once.

Instead, you may need to make the transition more slowly.

Try having him begin by taking a nap in his own bed. Or, let him sleep on his own mattress in your room for a few nights before moving him to his own bed. These small steps can be particularly helpful if you’ve got a child who is resistant to change.

5. Respond to Behavior Problems Consistently

When bedtime behavior problems arise, consistent discipline is essential. If your child calls out repeatedly to tell you he’s not tired, ignore this behavior until it stops. If you respond to him after 10 minutes of ignoring, you’ll teach him that yelling long enough gets your attention.

If your child comes into your room and tries to sleep in your bed each night, and five nights out of the week you return him to his bed, but the other two nights you let him stay in your bed, his behavior won’t change. If a child thinks there is even a slim chance that you’ll give in, he’ll press his luck. You need to be consistent with your discipline every single time until the behavior stops.

6. Reward Good Behavior

Reward systems can be effective ways to promote good bedtime behavior. Sticker charts work well for preschoolers. Older children may benefit from other simple rewards, such as earning an extra 15 minutes of computer time.

Token economy systems can also be effective at addressing bedtime behavior problems. Allow a child to earn a token for staying in bed all night or getting into bed on time. Then, tokens can later be exchanged for larger rewards.

7. Seek Professional Help When Necessary

Most bedtime behavior problems aren’t a sign of anything serious. Usually, a change in discipline can help resolve the issue successfully.

Occasionally, bedtime behavior problems can be symptoms of bigger problems. A sleep disorder or mental health problem, may contribute to bedtime behavior problems. If your child’s behaviors don’t improve with a change in discipline, talk to your child’s pediatrician to rule out any underlying issues.

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