Ask the Expert: Taking the fight out of the night

Bedtime battles are one of the most stressful problems you can deal with as a parent. Photograph: Thinkstock

Bedtime battles are one of the most stressful problems you can deal with as a parent. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, May 27, 2014, 01:00

Q I am writing about my girl who is just six years old. There is a real problem getting her to bed and it can take on average two hours, from 8pm to 10pm, for her to settle, by which time we are all exhausted and I’m usually in tears.

She continues to come downstairs, with excuses as long as your arm, threatens, hits, screams, throws things at me looking for a reaction and refuses to stay in her room.

On a good night, I ignore the behaviour; on a bad night I end up shouting and losing control. I realise that part is my issue but I feel pushed to the limit.

As I work full-time, I need my downtime in the evening when the kids are in bed. Now, neither I nor my husband have any kid-free time, and we are exhausted.

As a baby she had a comfort blanket that she chewed on from the age of four months. As she got older she would twist the blanket and stuff it into her mouth.

This was removed last August as it was a hazard and she was starting school, and so on. I would not have removed it if she had just cuddled it. That experience was like watching someone come off heroin.

It was a big setback in her getting to sleep at night. The problems really kicked off then and she struggles with settling herself.

She is a great girl most of the time and there are no major issues during the day with her. She is a great sister to her brother and sister.

A Bedtime battles and sleep problems are among the most stressful problems you can deal with as a parent. The more you battle to get your child to sleep, the more agitated they can become, which makes it harder for them to sleep and so the problem can escalate.

Further, as you have discovered, children staying up late is very disruptive to busy parents who need their downtime for their own sanity. And the more exhausted you become, the harder it is to respond patiently to your daughter and the more tense bedtime becomes.

However, there is a simple method to break this vicious cycle and to teach your daughter over time how to relax at bedtime. Taking the battle out of bedtime The first thing to do is to take the battle out of the bedtime. When children come out of their room at night to look for a drink or another story, what they are really looking for is their parents’ attention. A lot of young children feel a bit lonely going to sleep, or find it hard to get to sleep by themselves.

If you get angry or into conflict with them, this can make them anxious and agitated and this, in turn, makes them seek you out more. Taking children back to bed without saying anything, or being angry, even in a nonverbal way, may not give them the comfort they need so they remain agitated and are likely to come out again.