Let's Talk Kids: "Seeking Sleep"

Apr 19, 2017

While their exhausted parents could fall asleep standing on their heads, frustrated four-year-olds and sobbing seven-year-olds fight bedtime to the death.  What is it that kids have against sleeping?

Most parents have faced this night-time frustration at least once, and the reasons it happens are as complicated as the children they love.

First, young children are determined to establish autonomy and don’t like for adults to make decisions for them about anything. Sometimes, kids are worried about something bad happening in the night, like a break-in or a house fire.  Lots of kids worry about having nightmares.  And some kids’ natural temperaments are so active that they can’t bear the thought of slowing down to sleep and being confined to bed for a whole night.

I’ve been asking the real “experts” about this phenomenon—parents who have lived through it. Here are some ideas that might work if your child is resisting sleep.

One parent found that allowing her four-year-old to decide about the bedtime ritual, makes him more empowered and less rebellious.  At supper, she asks what pajamas he’d like to wear and what book he’d like to read.  Later, when they put his plan into place, he’s far less likely to fuss.

A dad whose seven-year-old worries about everything told me they address those worries head-on at bedtime, asking what she’s worried about.  So far he’s reminded her of the three smoke detectors situated strategically around the house, the locks on the windows and doors, and their large dog.  

A mother told me about her active little boy who simply can’t settle to sleep. She’s found several helpful strategies.  First, she makes sure he gets plenty of physical play early in the day.  Next, she gives him time in a warm bath.  Finally, she lays with him during books and prayers, letting her still body signal quiet to his.

All three families found their own answers.   No one method works every time for every child.  Sleep issues can resolve once only to reappear when a child experiences another developmental stage.

But loving parents who pay attention seem to hit upon solutions that offer up a good night sleep for sweet children—as well as their exhausted parents.