- How much sleep does my child need?
- Why is my child fighting bedtime?
- What do you do when your 4 year old won't go to bed?
- Why does my child not want to sleep?
Picture the scene. You’re absolutely shattered, you’ve had a long day, you haven’t even brushed your hair let alone had a shower, and you can’t remember the last time you drank a cup of tea that wasn’t cold. You’re craving a bit of me-time. All you need is to get the kids into bed. And that could mean your toddler, tweenager or teenager! Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Enter the child from hell! The child from hell that doesn’t need sleep and definitely knows best despite their tender years. Tantrums with toddlers and arguments with teens follow. That’s it! You’ve lost it! Game over. It’s a pretty common scene in houses up and down the country. Well, we’re here to tell you that there is another way. Read on for how you can have your tea and drink it! 😃
How much sleep does my child need?
A sensible place to start when your child refuses to bed is to look at how much sleep they actually need. We trust that you know your child and it’s pretty obvious when they are tired but there’s no harm in checking, is there?
Kids grow up so fast that you could be a little bit out: perhaps you’ve got an idea in your head about what a 7 year old bedtime should be, or perhaps you haven’t updated this information since their 5-year-old bedtime routine. Take a look at the chart below which shows what time the experts, the NHS to you and me, consider should be how much shut-eye your little ones require. 😴
Number of hours
4 months to 12 months
1 to 2 years old
3 to 5 years old
6 to 12 years old
13 to 18 years old
If they’re getting less than they need, it’s quite understandable that their behaviour may get more challenging.
Why is my child fighting bedtime?
Once you have established how much sleep your little or not-so-little one needs, you have to look for the reason for the battle to avoid the bedroom. Let’s face it, most parents would welcome the opportunity of an early night!
This is why it’s important to keep the lines of communication open when your child refuses to go to bed. Try to establish the root of the problem. After that, you can focus on a solution for their particular situation.
Is your child being bullied at school or experiencing online bullying? Is your child worried about exams or school failure? Are they having mental health problems? You may find that encouraging them to share their problems with you by having a conversation will help ease their worries. You don’t always have to give advice or rush to the school in their defence. Just listen to them calmly. Most kids just want to be heard. 👂
A recent report by NHS Digital found that the global pandemic has led to many children having trouble sleeping: 28.7% of children aged 6 to ten had problems dropping off on at least three nights of the previous week; 38.4% of children aged between 11 and 16 and 57.1% of 17- to 23-year-olds couldn’t get to sleep, woke during the night or woke up early. If your child knows that going to bed equates to them lying in a darkened room worrying about everything, it’s hardly surprising they don’t want to go.
If you feel like your child is in a good place mentally, then it’s probably worth looking at yourself. No matter what kind of parent you are, there is always room for improvement. A little tweak here and there could be the reason why your child refuses to go to bed.
Screen time before bed
According to a report by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, children should be asked to put down their devices an hour before bed. And here’s the science to back this claim. It is thought that staring at the light a screen gives off decreases the secretion of melatonin. This is the hormone that regulates wakefulness. It is also believed that the excitement caused by a video game, TV series or social media may have a negative effect on sleep. Healthy technology habits are something grown-ups should follow too!
For a 6 year old bedtime and a 7 year old bedtime, this could work. It could work for toddlers and probably most primary-school-age kids. At these ages, most children like to read before bed and there are many benefits of being read to by a parent or caregiver. Dare we say it, they may even look forward to going to bed if a) you’re going with them, b) they’re interested to know what happens in the story and c) they get a bit of one-on-one time with you. Check out our list of recommended children’s books. 📕
We know that this isn’t going to be easy when your not-so-little one’s life revolves around TikTok and Instagram, but trying to keep devices out of the bedroom as much as possible is a good start. Why not talk to them, and come up with some mutually-agreeable ground rules? Meet in the middle, or at least appear to! Reading is something to encourage with older children too. Here are some suggestions for this age group.
Lack of routine
If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a thousand times, kids need routine. You know it, but maybe you’re not so good at implementing it! Try to establish one that works for your family and try to implement it. It could make the world of difference as to why your child refuses to go to bed.
Lack of boundaries
If you, as a parent, don’t set boundaries, your child misbehaving at bedtime should come as no surprise. If they’re used to getting what they want in the daytime, then why shouldn’t they at night? Good behaviour needs to be rewarded. A star chart for little ones is a good place to start. ⭐
Likewise, bad behaviour should have consequences. Without consequences for bedtime battles, your child won’t learn the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. If you go in with the attitude of , ‘Ok, my 3 year-old is a nightmare at bedtime, I’d better really put the time in now to resolve this’, with any luck you won’t have 4-year-old bedtime battles, 5-year-old bedtime battles, 6 year old bedtime battles or 7 year old bedtime battles!
Diet before bed
It’s the oldest trick in the book: a child refuses to go to bed because they’re hungry. According to the advice by the NHS, the first thing to establish is if they’re genuinely hungry or just using food as a tactic to stay up longer. If you think they are peckish, make sure you’re the one in control and offer a snack. And offer this snack as early as possible, before bath and brushing teeth for younger children. Then, as we all know, a healthy diet is key. So, rather than sugar (a rookie error for any parent) choose a snack high in protein and/or fibre. We’re talking nuts, berries, Greek yoghurt, cereal (as long as it’s not too sweet) and so on. There’s more information here about the right kinds of food.
Exercise throughout the day
With kids spending more time being entertained on devices, there’s less time for physical activity. The Great Ormond Street Hospital in London recommends children do sport and play outside to help burn energy. Obviously, not every child is into sports so this can be substituted for a walk in the fresh air. If a child has been sedentary for much of the day, they may have problems falling to sleep or be reluctant to go to bed. Bedtime for 8 year olds, bedtime for 4 year olds and bedtime for pretty much anyone is going to be positively influenced by exercise! 🏃
We know everyone’s home situation is different but wherever possible, make your child’s bedroom a really attractive chill-out zone. Your child misbehaving at bedtime is going to be reduced if they feel safe and relaxed in their bedroom. We’re not talking full rebuild, we’re talking small changes like duvet cover, night light, room temperature and lack of distraction like toys.
What do you do when your 4 year old won't go to bed?
Bedtime for 4 year-old children can be one of the most challenging. They’ve become more assertive, little people in their own right and can be amazingly stubborn (blame their other parents’ genes obviously! 😆) They have just started primary school and this means big changes for them. Again, the answer to this is communication and all the things mentioned in the previous section.
In addition to this, as they are growing, maybe they no longer need that nap during the day. Are they going through a growth spurt? You may have to try some new strategies from the ones that used to work as they get bigger. Perhaps start a new big boy or girl routine and let them know they can now do things they couldn’t before because they’re getting bigger: going to bed half an hour later or more reading time. Whatever helps you to distract them from battle before bedtime for 4-year old children!
Why does my child not want to sleep?
Once you have tried all the things we’ve suggested, you might need to work out your child’s body clock. Every child has a different sleep pattern. You might have a night owl or an early bird. Get to know your child’s best sleep routine and you might have more success when a child refuses to go to bed.
Picture the scene, you’ve read this article, tried out all the suggestions and found a couple that work for you. Now your child is in bed on time and without a fuss, you can put the kettle on, have a hot cup of tea (interchangeable with a glass of wine obviously!) and enjoy a bit of me-time. Here’s hoping! 🤞