“It’s Time To Go To Bed.”6 min read


I have a 9-year old boy. He is a typical 9-year old boy, I believe, in that his mind (and mouth) is constantly going 200 miles an hour. His siblings are always waiting for him to stop talking so they can get a word in edgewise. He is full of ideas and loves to take things apart. We are having a problem with bedtime. He goes to bed just fine, but once there, he won’t go to sleep. We let him read for about 15-30 minutes once he’s in bed, then we come down and turn the lights out (for him and his younger brother who is 4). But for several months, he is staying up late reading. I have taken to going down just before I go to bed, and turning his light out again, and removing books from his room (I don’t want to discourage him from reading, just at bedtime :). Sometimes, if I forget, I’ll find out that he was up until midnight, or even 2:00 a.m. reading. This makes for some fairly miserable days with him, since he becomes VERY grumpy when he doesn’t get his sleep (he usually needs 11-12 hours, and always has). Well, tonight, I went down to check on him, and he was reading, so I took his book, kissed him goodnight, told him I love him, and turned out his light. Came upstairs, got ready for bed, realized I hadn’t taken my medicine, came out, and he was playing on the computer! (this hasn’t EVER happened before). So I shut the computer off, sent him to bed AGAIN, and went in to finish getting ready for bed. Since our two boys are downstairs, we have a monitor down in the hallway, and as I’m finishing, I hear him punching the buttons on an old cellphone that he likes to use as an alarm clock. So I go down and remove that as well. Aarrgghh! I hope you have some suggestions to offer, because I have tried all kinds of things, and since I’m new to this, I’m not exactly sure what to try next…

Up Too late

Dear Up Too Late,

Many people have children who don’t like to go to bed. Some people have children who can’t go to bed. Before you decide what kind of teaching you want to do, be sure that you know if your son doesn’t want to go to bed, or can’t go to bed.

If you determine that he isn’t able to sleep, then I am not the best person to help you, you might need to talk to someone about insomnia or similar conditions.

However, if you determine that he simply doesn’t want to go to bed then the first thing to do is seek to understand him. Does he want personal time? Does he understandhow to followinstructions? Does he know that when you turn out the lights that is a NO answer? Does he know how to accept a No answer? Has he learned that part of going to bed is mom coming in multiple times before it’s really bed time? Does go to bed time change every day? Could this be confusing? Has he had to be accountable for his decision to stay up?Does he understand your family computer policy?

If this were my son, after trying to understand what he could be thinking or needing I would teach a few things.

First I would do lots of role playing with the four basics so that he felt really confident with following instructions, accepting no answers and consequences and disagreeing appropriately.

Then I would have a counseling session with him about reading before bed. I would ask him how much time he would like to have before bed to read and then set a get in bed timewhich will allow that much reading time and still get him to bed on time. As part of this counseling session I would suggest a positive consequence if he observes the bed time himself (if he governs this behavior himself) for a week; unless he can’t focus that long, in which case reward each day for a week. Stop positive motivation after a week because he will have mastered the go to bed skill by then. Make sure you make a big deal out of when he controls that skill.

Before bed time I would pre-teach to him how he is supposed to do the adult skill of choosing to go to bed on time. Ask him to tell you how to do this. I would remind him of the positive consequence that he will choose to earn if he governs over himself well. Next I would remind him of the negative consequences that have been determined by the family, and I would also remind him that no matter what time he chooses to go to bed he has to wake up at the appointed family wake up time. Remind him that if he is grumpy he will probably make more bad choices than normal and end up with more negative consequences. State that you have faith that he will make the wise decision because you know he is smart enough to make these decisions for himself now. You could also to a SODA together to really visualize all the advantages and disadvantages to each option.

Make sure you wake him up on time and follow through with everything you have said, every day. After about 2 weeks, he will usually be cured of staying up late if you are consistent with this.

Put a lock or hard password on your computer so that using the computer without mom or dad’s consent can’t happen.

The other option is to give him an instruction at bed time to turn out the light at a certain time and if he chooses not to then he earns a negative consequence for the next day. Also, when you tell him to go to bed and he doesn’t, you are giving him a “NO” answer and he needs to be able to say, “OK or ask to disagree appropriately with you.” If he just disobeys, then he is not accepting NO and should earn negative consequences.

Make sure to write the consequences down and refer to them in the morning, so that you don’t forget. If you forget to have him do his negative consequences, then your parenting at night will never mean anything. He will feel free to walk all over you.

These are my initial thoughts. Not knowing the true character of your son, it is hard to know for sure, but I hope this helps.

Sweet Dreams,