When does bedtime become other than a nightmare?

It’s just amazing to me. We can have the most enjoyable, busy day, full of physical activities, 10 solid hours of fun and action, but when it rolls around to bedtime, all of a sudden our nice kids vanish and *poof* it’s the whiny can-I-have’s that show up.
Honestly, it’s the main time that I feel completely inadequate as a Dad and think about just throwing in the proverbial towel and going back to a bachelor existence, fatherhood be damned.


To be honest, the 8yo is a breeze: even if she can’t sleep, you can at least reason with her and she can sit quietly and read a book for 10 minutes, if need be. The 1yo is even easier, too: Mom lays down with her and within 5-10 minutes, she’s usually out — more or less — for the night.
But it’s our 5yo boy who is just hell on wheels when it comes to bedtimes. He’s in this extremely whiny phase right now, and a typical dialog goes like this:
G-: Can we read another book?
me: No, we’re done with books for now. It’s time for sleep.
G-: (very whiny, crying voice) You sssaaiiiddd we could read another book.
me: No I didn’t. We can read the other book in the morning. It’s time for bed now.
G-: (gasps, starts to lose it) I wanna read the book….
me: (contemplates duct tape, soundproof rooms, and the sheer luxury of getting in a car and driving off, music blaring from every window> Honey, it’s really time to sleep. C’mon, I’ll tell you a story
G-: (full out crying) I … want … the … book
me: (cracking knuckles, repeating “hitting doesn’t work” mantra, taking deep, calming breaths) Shhhhhh…. you’ll wake the baby…
and round and round it goes. It’s 10x worse with Linda, for reasons that neither of us fully understand, but man alive, bedtime can just suck beyond belief. And it’s always been pretty tough with this fella, regardless of what we’ve tried, while we don’t recall it ever being so terrible with A-, our 8yo, when she was younger.
Is it a boy thing?
We have found that it’s very time-sensitive, at least. If we can be done with dinner by 6pm and in bed by 6.30pm or so, then there’s at least a reasonable chance that the whiny attack will only last a few minutes and then we’ll have peace and quiet. Tonight we didn’t get to bed until 7.30pm and it was just not a pretty site. Finally at 9pm, G- and I went out for a quiet walk for 30 minutes or so, because it was pretty darn clear he wasn’t going to sleep and discussion was becoming more and more the verbal equivalent of banging our heads against the wall. Not fun.
From all that I hear, the “family bed” (aka cosleeping) has the unfortunate side effect of making bedtime more difficult, not less difficult, even though that’s completely counterintuitive to me. I mean, if I was 5 and was afraid of bedtime and/or dreams and/or just couldn’t let go of the day, I’d think that knowing I was going to be in the same room as my parents would be calming and reassuring, wouldn’t you?
And, yes, we have bedtime routines, we try to slow things down, we get everyone in bed and read a chapter from a quiet book, etc etc. But all seemingly to no avail.
We don’t regret our decision almost nine years ago to have the family bed — and the sleepy grins and cuddles of the morning are some of my favorite times of day, but I swear, I’m ready to throw in the towel after a night like tonight, a night where we can’t but help feeling like helpless victims of some midget tyrant holding whiny crying as his tool of blackmail over us…
Help! How do you handle bedtime? What works for you?

15 comments on “When does bedtime become other than a nightmare?

  1. Hello Dave
    We have a 4yr. old who was raised on movies in our living room or in the family bed with my wife and I. We had our second in September and now he is six months old. After we had our second my wife could not take the night time we had set up for ourselves. She was starting a new job. Our oldest son could stay up til 10 or 1030 at times. We changed that in one week. We started getting him to sleep in his own bed. That was a hard week but we stuck to our guns and finally he was able to handle it. Now every once in a while he falls to sleep with his mother in our bed since she works all day and he misses her. He does move to his own bed. He does whine and plead for more time and says he is scared. We got a night lite for his room. When he first started saying he was scared I told him he had a protector night lite and his protector teddy bear. I would tell him he would be ok and I would come back and check on him. We have dinner at about 630 and by 7or730 he is in the tub and then to bed. We do have a video player in his room and he lays and watches movies until he either falls to sleep or we turn it off. Usually one of the two happens by 830or9. Let me tell you it was hell for the first few years. But my wife and I knew it was hard but we also knew it was best for our kids if we let them sleep in our bed if they were too upset and we never let them “cry it out” in their crib. I use to take Drew, the oldest, for drives to get him to sleep. It is hard to know when you are being “played” and when your child is realy scared. I still lay down with drew sometimes. The one thing that is really funny is I can leave the room while he is still wired for sound and scared. Within five minutes he is sound to sleep. During the first week I went to drews room three or four times to check on him. I would go in, kiss him goodnight, tuck him in and tell him I will check on him in a few minutes. After some time he would just fall to sleep by himself. We are sure to get him up by 7or730 in the morning. He is not in school yet but we still get him up. Yesterday i let him sleep till 8 and the night time was a little ruffer. Whatever you are doing has worked for you other kids. When we our first one was born we knew we were doing things all wrong according to the “experts”. We did what was best for our family and our child. Now our little four year is far smarter and more a independent child I could have ever expected. He is confident and well adjusted so far. That is what we wanted most. Happy, well adjusted and able to handle the outside world and all that comes with it. Sugar is another factor with drew. My brother has two kids who he feeds sugar to through out the day. He even gives them ice cream at 730 and they go to bed at 830. NO FRIGGIN WAY. Not with Drew. He is cut off from sugar of any kind at about 3 oclock. From the time drew was little he has things explained and laid out. Bed time is the same thing. He is told ahead of time what is going to happen. He is also given choices as to how he wants to fall to sleep. Movie downstairs with no storis. Books and stories then bed or just watch movies in his room. The number of books is set out before we start reading. If he chooses he can skip his bath and watch a movie downstairs with us then we will take him up to bed in his own bed. However is goes Drew knows exactly what is going to happen and when. This way when he whines or other we can say he made the choices and he knew what was going to happen.
    good luck
    stubby

  2. This sounds a lot like my little man T. I recently started using a timer before bed. That has worked quite well. I set it for 15 minutes and we do whatever he want for that amount of time. Then, when the bell dings, its lights out. There is something about the objectiveness of the timer that T seems to like.
    Most nights I will tell him to close his eyes and stop talking. Then I stay with him until he drifts off to sleep. If he says a word or does not keep his eyes closed, I leave the room.
    This method has been working great for quite a while now. I hope any part of it works for you. Good Luck.

  3. Hi Dave,
    Boy o boy did this post hit home! My daughter is 8 months old, and she’s waking 3-4 times a night. We don’t cosleep at night (my husband’s preference), and I’ve been responding by nursing her. We’re trying to encourage her to go down to 1-2 night nursings, as I work part time and it’s extremely difficult to perform as a professional on 2 hour segments of sleep.
    One strategy that we’re trying this week is to have dad go in, pick baby up, and rock her back to sleep for the first waking. We’re hoping that in a week or so, she’ll get the message that at least one nursing has been eliminated.
    Another thing we’ve done is to have a consistent bedtime routine: book, lullaby, bath, nurse, then rock to sleep. Our daughter’s so used to this by now that she’s been putting herself to sleep on my lap. I’m going to try putting her down in her crib when she’s drowsy next week; I have a gut sense that she’s going to be ok with it. But I will not let her cry alone. Even if she ever develops severe sleep problems, I will never, ever, leave her alone to scream and sob herself to sleep again. (We tried cry it out earlier and it was traumatic. Never again.)
    Sleep issues really get to the core of parental values and practices, I think. They’re one of the first major issues new parents negotiate. The night wakings and sleep deprivation can confuse our judgement and skew our intuition; it’s so easy to resort to sleep experts and faddish books when you’re desperate for shut eye. The hardest thing, when it’s 2:39 AM, you’re the risen dead, the moon is full, and your baby’s voice and eyes pierce the darkness for only you – is to have some clarity about your role, your sacred guardianship, as Dad or Mom. And the deepest contentment then comes not from convenience or a book, but from trusting your own weary but true gauge.

  4. Good food for thought. Some reactions…
    First off, we don’t watch TV or movies at all, so having the children go to sleep watching movies wouldn’t be an effective strategy for us. Works for some, but not others. Not a huge big deal. I also agree with sweets and sugars too. No sweet stuff with dinner, no desserts, and if they need to have a midnight snack before bed (it’s become a ritual and is usually a slice of toast or bowl of unsweet cereal) it’s with minimal sweets.
    The timer’s a great idea, Dave. Thanks for it. We’ve tried it in other contexts (my daughter still hates when I count for any reason, actually. {hee hee} If I want her to get motivated I’ll say “I’ll count to 25, see if you can be dressed by then!” and she’ll yell “don’t count! Don’t count!” and get dressed in a flash!)
    Joanne, I really like your perspective too. You make a lot of sense, and the parenting books that tell you to progressively desensitize the kids, well, sheesh, sounds more like a method of torture (for the kids and the parents) than anything healthy. Yes the end result might justify the means, but at what long-term cost?
    In an interesting post script to my earlier note about bedtimes, Linda and I have taken a collective deep breath and come to realize that letting things “flow” and getting past objections (esp. the “I’m still hungry” variety) with a quick handful of carrots, glass of water, or similar, is faster and more effective than beating our heads against the wall, insisting “you can go to bed hungry. No more food” or “no more drinking this time of night”.
    It comes back to something we talk about all the time: the difference between a “fix” and a “get through”. Our 8yo is pretty darn easy at bedtime (though she has her sporadic night fears too) so we just have to get through the 5yo’s current phase and we’ll be fine…

  5. I read a whole book on this about 5 years ago and it really worked on the foster kids I had at that time. Basically you tuck them in, say good night, walk out. They yell, scream, cry, get up, whatever. You wait 2 minutes, go back in, don’t say anything, tuck them in, say good night. They flip out again, you wait 4 minutes, do your thing again. Wait 8 minutes. Keep doubling the time, don’t give in. In about a week everything should be cool. They finally get it, that you are there and the whining really doesn’t do much for them. Good Luck. One of those foster kids is now 9 years old and my son.

  6. Walt.. that’s the SuperNanny’s way! Only she sits in the room with the child so the child sees that she is there and they are not alone. It is a form of “crying it out” that we are all against, but after bath, stories, lullibys, etc., the child is not being neglected. And because you are there with them, they are not left alone. I do agree with this approach and eventually the kids will understand that bedtime means bedtime. And the more they understand this and follow the set routine, the more seriously the parents will take them if they are truly hungry or have a fear. Kids need to learn the repercussions of “crying wolf” as well.

  7. Hi Dave.
    I guess I’m rather late to this discussion, but I just found it via google. My wife and I are AP parents with a 15 month old boy and a 3-year-old girl. We’ve had sleep battles for quite a while with our daughter, but have always been able to manage. She almost always needs us to fall asleep, either in her bed or ours. Our son, however, is becoming a real nightmare. He seems to know exactly how to fight off sleep, even in our arms in a dark room. Nowadays, my wife and I have to “divide and conquer” when it comes to bedtime, with her taking one to a room and me taking the other to a different room to do all the rocking, reading, cuddling, etc. that it takes. This usually doesn’t end until after 9pm. I’m a grad student and I’ll be starting back to class this week, which means most nights I’ll need to study, which leaves my wife alone with the restless natives. Here’s the question: we’re contemplating putting our queen mattress on the floor and adding a twin next to it, with the goal being that my wife can just take the kids to bed all together. Our fear, though, is that these little crazies will just keep winding each other up and will never get to sleep. Most co-sleeping sites and articles I come across are about infants. Some address infants with older toddler siblings. What about two toddlers 26 months apart?! If you or anyone else has some input, we’d appreciate it!

  8. Our 3 year old hates to go to sleep. He won’t sleep or nap without me and mostly nurses the entire time still. He sleeps on top of me half the night! He is a total night owl, wakes up late, stays up late. If I woke him up early, he’d just take a longer nap and still stay up late. We have tried everything short of the Super Nanny approach which I would never do. I just pray it will pass someday. The timer thing didn’t work for us. Perhaps I am just more accepting of this behaviour (I don’t work outside the home and don’t have to get up until my kid does – which I can’t anyways cause he sleeps on top of me – ha ha ha!). But anyways, I just feel that some kids will take a long time to adjust to our world. Eventually I hope that my child won’t need to play with me every second and that at night he can go read quietly as long as he wants until he falls asleep. That’s what I often did as a young child. I would stay up until 11 or 12 with a nightlight and a book.

  9. First off, let me start by saying that I come from a different culture. In India, we routinely co-sleep until we are pretty much grown up – I co-slept with my parents and my brother until I was in 7th grade. Back home, it’s routine to have toddlers two years apart sleep in the “family bed”.
    I honestly don’t remember ever having a huge bed-time routine, but I don’t remember having sleep issues as well. The whole sleep thing has never come up as big discussion point in India, but don’t get me started on the eating thing 🙂
    The only thing I can remember is that we used to have a sleeping room and a working room. Dinner used to be done by around 9:30pm (we ate dinner late). Then, those who wanted to sleep would go to the sleeping room where the lights would be off. Those who wanted to stay up and (read/watch TV/work) would stay in the working room, where the lights would be on, and do whatever they needed to do. When they were done and felt sleepy, they would brush their teeth and go into the sleeping room to sleep.
    I’m not sure if it was this easy back when I was 5 years old because I don’t remember that far back. I do think that this was sort of how it worked when my younger brother was around 5 years old. Typically, we wouldn’t go to sleep unless at least one parent decided to go to sleep, I think.
    I can ask my parents for advice about this on your behalf if you would like.
    And, to use the argument that people always use with parenting strategies, I turned out fine (I think) 🙂

  10. Hello…i have a lil problem getting our son to bed…he’ll do fine during the day occassionally he will we fine during the day…but he has a problem of being scared almost all the time…MOSTLY when it is time for bed…we just recently moved to a new town bout 1300 kms from our old town and family…and now he is just scared all the time…how can i make it so he goes to bed with no fuss….and for him to stop saying that he is scared? we are so desperate…lastnight we kept him awake until 6 am…he only got about 4 hr sleep…my husbund had to leave for work @ 7am…he only got about an hours worth of sleep.

  11. I have a 9 yr old boy we have travelled every two years and so have encouraged keeping a bed time routine ie, bath ,tea, bed, as he has grown he is allowed 10mins tv or we play a game together or story time.He knows he should be in bed by 8.30 pm if he has school the next day. I insist on him having a good sleep or mum and dad need their time or adult time!
    We sometimes need to lay down the rules.No doubt it is hard but it is not forever..

  12. I have a 9 yr old boy learning to accept time and when to retire is important. I believe in the routine Bath ,tea, bed.It really works and I find after long day what is right is that the kids get a good nights sleep and then you have time with your partner.

  13. I too am coming in on this late, but I just found this conversation and it is the first time that I seem to have found others with bedtime challenges which seem to be at the same degree as we’ve been having with our son. R- just turned 3 and bedtime is easier than it ever has been – that said, it can still take up to 2 hours for him to actually fall asleep, and that is with my husband or I laying down and snuggling with him the full time (and usually falling asleep ourselves in the process.) He used to be absolutely hyper once the lights turned off – bouncing around, hitting the mattress, speed-crawling up & down the bed, and the only way that I could get him to hold still would be to physically hold him in place. He now will lie in bed and be rather quiet, with his head on the pillow till he falls asleep, but I do still need to remind him occasionally that it is not a time to play. That said, he fights off sleep like a champ, and will often employ some tactic to wake himself back up once he starts to drift off. We’ve just realized that we have to stick with our routine (1 episode of Gumby while he puts on his pjs, a glass of milk, and we read one book together in bed prior to turning off the light) and can’t give him an inch, as he will take a mile.
    Now we’re just hoping to take things in a different direction with our 6 month old little girl. One difference that I am just starting to try (night 2) is not letting her nurse to sleep. I still lie with her in bed, and cuddle and sing to her, but after she’s done nursing, I’ve started not letting her stay on for the sake of drifting off. I am hoping that by starting this now, she’ll learn how to put herself to sleep without the crutch of the boobie. Maybe a skill that would have helped her brother in the long-run, we’ll see.
    Good luck everyone, as this seems to be a particularly challenging issue with AP.

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