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Managing Bedtime Power Struggles

A child's bedtime should be a welcome respite from a busy day, but all too often, parents find themselves locked in a battle with a child who's balking at going to bed. Bedtime battles often surface at around age 2 for a number of reasons.

  1. Fear of separation. A toddler may be afraid to go to bed if he has a problem with nighttime separation from his parents. Practice in making this separation will help. In the meantime, be sure your child gets lots of hugging and other reassurances during his waking hours and encourage his attachment with a security object to help him handle separation from you.
  2. Fear of the dark. If your child fears sleeping in a dark room, use a nightlight or keep his room door ajar with hallway light filtering in until he's sound asleep.
  3. An upset schedule. If his bedtime isn't regular -- if he goes to bed at 7 p.m. one night and 9 p.m. the next -- he probably won't be sleepy when you're ready to put him down for the night. When he gets off schedule, you may need to work gradually, over two or three days, to get back to his normal bedtime.
  4. Curiosity. Some kids simply don't want to miss out on anything going on in their fascinating environment -- so they resist sleep. While you don't want to stifle your child's curiosity, you do need to be firm that certain hours of the evening and night are grown-up times. Also don't make an unnecessary show of anything interesting you're planning for after his bedtime.
  5. Inappropriate associations. Some children resist a going-to-bed routine because they've already learned to associate sleep with other activities. If your child has learned to fall asleep on the sofa while you watch TV, or in your arms while you rock in the rocking chair, or in your bed, this is his established bedtime routine. Unfortunately, these bedtime habits are tough to break and cause many sleep problems down the line. If your child resists the new bedtime routine that makes sleep a scheduled and natural part of each day, be prepared for some difficult nights ahead as you seek to undo bad habits.

From The Parents Answer Book: From Birth Through Age Five, by the editors of Parents magazine. Copyright © 2000 by Roundtable Press and G+J USA Publishing.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.