You are not alone! This is quite common and can start around toddler age, when those strong little characters really start to develop! Though this advice also applies to children right up to the age of 7 years old.
The first step is to find out if there is a GENUINE NEED or if it is PROCRASTINATION TECHNIQUE’S?
For example, your little one could have a genuine fear about the dark, or something is bothering them, and they are unsure how to express it.
Listen & empathise, then talk – If this is the case, give them the opportunity to talk about whatever it is that is bothering them, actively listen to them, try not to interrupt. Show empathy and understanding of how they are feeling. For them, that feeling is very real, even if, from your point of view, it may seem silly (i.e., monsters in the cupboard).
Then talk to them about potential solutions, let them check under the bed, in the cupboards before bedtime, and then give them lots of loving reassurance.
Get Creative – try a ‘Magic Room Spray’ (water in a spray) that they can use before they go to bed to make it nice and sleep friendly for them.
Positive talk – ask them about the best part of their day or get them to talk about their favourite toy/book/ film, so they are left with positive thoughts before they go to sleep.
Of course, if you think that it is more likely procrastination techniques, then we want to approach it slightly differently:
Decide on what you are going to acknowledge in terms of requests or demands and be 100% consistent.
For example, if they are asking for a drink, but have just had a cup of milk, you know they do not NEED another drink, they just want one, so you can comfortably say ‘No’ to that.
If it’s a request to go to the toilet – One option is to be proactive with this and take them to try to go to the toilet just before they go into bed. Or you may decide you will take them to the bathroom (in silence) the first time, to give them the benefit of the doubt and then you will soon see whether it was an actual need or not.
The point is, you need to strip away any interaction or motivation for them to continue with these bedtime battles, which in turn keeps them up for ages, and then normally turns into tantrums and meltdowns because they are exhausted.
Every time we answer a demand or request – it encourages them to continue with it. We could say ‘No, No, No, No‘ and then the 5th time, or 1 hour later, we are tired and frustrated, and eventually say ‘Yes’ to said request. This, even more so, encourages them to hold out longer and harder next time.
This is called ‘Intermittent Re-enforcement’.
Keep their bedtime routine consistent. Once they are in bed, if they shout for you, give them a regulated time every time before you respond (between 5 to 10 minutes – whatever you are comfortable with). Depending on what the request is, you either respond quietly and calmly with a reminder that it’s bedtime (in a whisper) and leave again, or if you do not feel you need to go in, just stay in the doorway (do not enter the room) and whisper a short, simple bedtime reminder.
Persevere and be consistent with your responses, and you will start to see bedtime improve!
The final piece that will play a part in this, regardless of whether a younger or older child, is OVERTIREDNESS.
In younger children who are still having naps in the day and are fighting sleep/bedtime and getting really upset, it is likely you have missed their ideal sleep window, which therefore makes it more difficult for them to go to sleep as the overtiredness has given them more energy. (Get my FREE sleep needs chart if you are unsure of your child’s ideal awake windows)
For older children, it is a similar concept, but it is also going to heighten any genuine fears/feelings and will give them that extra bit of wired energy to continue with their procrastination techniques and then have a total meltdown.
Regardless of your child’s age, check timings and daytime sleep (if they are still having them). You can bring bedtime forward even if it is just until the issues are resolved, and this without a doubt will contribute towards an easier bedtime.
If you feel like you have tried everything when it comes to generic advice, and you need something a bit more bespoke to solve your child’s sleep, get in touch, we can have a chat about how I can help support you and your little one’s sleep.