When Your Child Refuses to Go to Bed: 10 Tips for a Peaceful Bedtime Routine

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • There are many studies that show the difficulties children with ADHD - and their parents- face at bedtime. Typically, the child's ADHD medication has worn off, causing his symptoms to reappear, often with a vengeance. As he becomes more hyperactive and impulsive, his body needs just the opposite: rest!


    What is a parent to do?



    10 Tips for Getting Your Child to Bed


    1. Insist that all electronics and other stimulating toys and activities stop one hour before bedtime.

       2.  Have a schedule and stick to it with rare exceptions. Post the schedule (in more 

            than one place). For younger children, use diagrams or pictures from magazines.

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            Clearly state each step of the bedtime routine:

    • What time the child must stop playing
    • Any chores needed to be done (i.e. putting toys away)
    • Snack time, if needed
    • Wash up, brush teeth, shower
    • Change into pajamas
    • Lights out

        3.  Warm milk, warm bathes- they really do work.


        4. Even older children love one on one time with parents, whether it's reading a book

            together, or sharing the day's activities. Even many teenagers find this time together

            calming and special.


        5.  Reward your child for every positive move in the right direction. For younger

             children, keep a jar and add coins to it every time he follows the bedtime schedule.  


        6.  Remember that children with ADHD get bored with routines quickly and though you

            want to try and make them the same each night, you'll need to be creative in making 

            that happen. Once, I was so desperate to get my child to bed, I turned it into a

            Scavenger Hunt. I wrote each bedtime step on an index card and hid them. Each

            contained a clue where to find the next card, plus instructions on what needed to be

            done to get ready for bed. Another parent wrote all the bedtime routines on her

            child's bathroom mirror using whiteboard markers. Think of other creative, novel ways

            to keep your child on track.


        7.  Get help! There was a time when things were so difficult in my home, that I hired a

             sitter a few nights a week to help me. It truly saved my sanity. Insist that your

             spouse/partner also help. Consider trading off bedtime and morning responsibilities

             with your partner so neither of you becomes burned out.


       8.  Sometimes the child seeks out stimulation by engaging parents in bedtime wars.

            Change YOUR habits- try different tactics that remove you from the scene as much

            as possible. You might be surprised that your child actually gets sleepy when the

            conflict with you disappears.


      9.  Try sensory products. When my daughter was very young, I purchased a special tent

           that sat on top of her bed. She loved to curl up with her stuffed animals. The

           security of the tent encompassing her had a calming effect. You can also purchase a 

  •        weighted blanket- these, too often have a calming effect on children with ADHD. 

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           Or...pile a lot of regular blankets on her. 


     10. De-clutter your child's room so that he isn't stimulated visually by all the "stuff" in 

          there or tempted to start playing with toys in the middle of the night.



    Many children with ADHD simply cannot unwind at the end of the day. When their daytime meds wear off, their behaviors often become unmanageable and sleep impossible. Discuss with your child's doctor whether a bedtime medication might be needed to help ease him into sleep.


    Remember: you can't force your child to sleep and you should never suggest that. But you can insist he stay IN bed and rest. Then let nature take its course.






Published On: April 17, 2008