Getting Kids to Stay In Bed

February 12th, 2013 posted by Elizabeth Pantley

girl reading in bed


I am in dire need of your help on this issue. My daughter is 7 1/2 and in the last month has developed a problem at bedtime. She has always gone to bed with a story and most of the time asleep before 8:30. Recently we extended her bedtime to 9:00 PM for the summer. Since we have done this, I am lucky if she is asleep by 10:30. It is not only the problem of falling asleep, but she is up several times after I put her to bed. She’ll come downstairs with any excuse from she needs a kiss to I can’t sleep because of the fan making noise. I am at my wits end with her. I have tried putting her to bed at her normal time, grounding her the next day and yelling at her, but nothing works. I am at the point of where my married life is suffering. We have no time for ourselves because of her constant getting up out of bed. What can I do? HELP!


Welcome to the club! This is one of the most common parental concerns. Kids seem to have never-ending energy, which only goes into overdrive at the end of the day. At the same time, the parent’s battery is draining fast, and getting the kids to bed becomes an obsessive, urgent (and sometimes desperate) need. Here are a few ideas that may make things easier for you at bedtime:

Create a Routine

Create a “Bedtime Chart.” Use a large piece of poster board. Number and illustrate each step. For example: Put on PJs, Have snack, Brush teeth, Read five books, Go potty, Turn on night-light, Kisses and hugs, Go to sleep. Post the chart at child-eye level on the bedroom door. Allow your child to lead you through the step-by-step process. After a week or two the routine will be set, and bedtime will flow smoothly.

Change the pattern

If your child is an independent reader, buy her a reading light. Allow her to read in bed with her special light for as long as she would like before turning out the light and going to bed. Remind her of her awakening time, and suggest she get enough sleep to be well rested in the morning. At first, she may abuse this privilege and stay up too late. The next day she’ll be tired. Show a bit of sympathy, attribute her tiredness to staying up late, but give her no slack. Make her follow her normal daily routine. Don’t lecture. Simply repeat the routine at bedtime, and allow her to learn to monitor her own bedtime through experience. (As any parent knows, a few nights of sleep deprivation acts as a great motivator to crave an earlier bedtime!)

Don’t fight it!

Enjoy the special quiet, cuddly time that bedtime provides. Read in bed to your child, then turn out the light and snuggle until your child, and perhaps even you, are asleep. Don’t feel guilty. In a flash your child will be older and more mature, and you’ll be longing for those extra cuddles. Okay. That’s how you GET her in bed. How do you get her to STAY there? Here are some thoughts and ideas:

Think about it

It’s usually a parent’s ambivalence about bedtime routines that allows a child to try to negotiate a new privilege every night. Be clear and concise about your bedtime rules, and you’ll find bedtime will be much more enjoyable. Get-Out-of-Bed-Free-Cards

That’s the ticket!

When you put your child to bed give her three “Get-Out-of-Bed-Free ” cards. These are simply tickets that you make out of cardboard. Let your child know that each time she gets out of bed, for whatever reason, she must give you one card. So if she gets up for a drink of water, to go potty, to ask how many days until her birthday party, she needs to give you a card each time. When the cards are gone, she has to stay in bed. Let her know that if she gets up after all her cards are gone, she won’t get ANY cards tomorrow night. (To make your own, printthese pre-made cards by clicking here )

Make it a ritual

Create a very specific bedtime ritual that is loving and enjoyable. After you put a child to bed, take the time to read to her. After that, sing a song, or rub her back. When a child is in a sleepy, comfortable state she’ll be less likely to want to get out of bed. Let her know that she can enjoy this special time, provided she stays in bed when the routine is completed. If she fusses and gets out of bed afterwards, tell her that she’ll lose the privilege the following night. You may have to follow through on this. If you do, expect a major tantrum, but hold your ground. You’ll only have to go thorough this once or twice for the message to get through loud and clear.

What’s really happening?

Consider the reason your child won’t stay put in bed, and solve the problem based on this reason. For instance, maybe your child isn’t tired and is ready for a later bedtime, maybe she’s hungry and needs a light pre-bedtime snack, or maybe she hasn’t had enough time with you and is longing for some “cuddle time” before she settles down for the night. (Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999) If you would like to receive free parenting tips and family activity ideas via email, subscribe to our weekly newsletter Making Time For Family by sending any email to [email protected] orby subscribing on the left side of this article.

Elizabeth Pantley (57 Posts)

Elizabeth Pantley is also the president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues. Elizabeth’s newsletter, Parent Tips is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Twins, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. You can visit her website at

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