Q&A: Putting my strong-willed child to bed


My strong-willed child is always a handful, but especially at bedtime. The excitement of the holiday season has only amplified this problem. He refuses to stay in bed! What can we do?

Answer: Bedtime battles are not unusual when there’s a strong-willed child in the house. The remedy is the same as that for any conflict with a strong-willed child: firm, loving and persevering discipline.

Success depends on establishing clear expectations and meaningful consequences, and applying them consistently. Be sure to discuss these consequences ahead of time. Your son should understand clearly what is and isn’t acceptable before he’s held accountable.

Begin by saying something like, “We all have things we must do in our home to live well together. My job tonight is to see you get the rest you need. Your job tonight is to stay in bed and go to sleep.” Let him know that if he doesn’t obey, he’ll have unpleasant consequences. This could involve the removal of a privilege in his bedtime routine. If his door is usually open or a nightlight is left on, perhaps the door will be closed and the light extinguished if he gets up.

After putting him to bed, be prepared to intercept him immediately. If he gets up, take him back to bed and sit quietly with him. Talk calmly and firmly about the importance of staying put. Say, “What we need right now is for you to stay in bed. What do you think we can do to make that happen?” If he gets up again, repeat the process. Be firm but not angry or exasperated. Stay within the boundaries you established.

Your goal, and the key to success, is to outlast your child, no matter how long it takes. It’s a matter of simple endurance. Once the battle has been won, the child will usually live within the parameters established. If it is lost, the next conflict will be even harder to resolve.

Don’t forget to pay attention to the positive side of the ledger, too. It’s important to “catch” your son being good. When he has a good night, encourage him and praise him for his accomplishment.

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