I've got a preschooler that plainly refuses to sleep most evenings. He gets up around 07:15, in time for kindergarten, does not nap during the day, and is visibly tired by the evening. His usual bedtime is around 19:30 and we've had a solid bedtime routine since forever that nearly always works.
Lately he refuses to go to sleep, even if we manage to talk him into bed. (Actually he had the same problem 2 years ago.) When this occasionally happened in the past, he was allowed to sit quietly on the livingroom sofa with his books, and after a fairly short while he would feel ready for bed. This usual approach doesn't work any more and things get irritable very quickly as he prevents us from doing our boring grown-up tasks that can't get done while the kids are up. If he gets his way, he'll still be up past 22:00 but that means lack of sleep and a tough next day for all of us.
He's not playing us parents against each other, either; we make sure to align our parenting. Explaining, arguing, or enforcing consequences doesn't work either because he simply doesn't care if we take away his toys or his privileges; he's only ever cares about "right now". Last night was particularly tough: My wife couldn't spend another evening that way and took him for a short drive in the car because that makes him fall asleep, and then carried him to bed. He then awoke and got up again, refusing to sleep. That's a first.
It's not just in the evenings, though. Our last vacation trip was typical: 4-hour car drive, our toddler fell asleep, but he practically forced himself to stay awake despite our best efforts. He finally fell asleep minutes before we arrived home.
It seems to me that he deliberately avoids sleeping under any circumstances, and I'm looking for options on how to handle that. We're demonstrating to him how boring it is to stay awake -- we don't do stuff that would make him feel like he's missing out on anything.
We haven't ever physically locked him into his room, and I don't believe that's a workable solution. I'd appreciate other suggestions as well as ideas about causes we haven't thought of yet. This is really taxing for us and we're running out of ideas, patience, arguments, and mental energy.
Update: some answers to comments:
- He's 4½ years old.
- An earlier bedtime is unthinkable, but we can try a later time, perhaps 20:00-20:30 tops.
- We don't have a TV, and he sometimes requests 20 minutes of Barbapapa (5-min cartoons) on mom's laptop, or this cute good-night film (7-min Pixar) on dad's pc.
- Dinner is typically around 18:00, so not right before bedtime. That's also pretty much the last drink. The bedtime routine includes a bathroom break, and he can (and does) go by himself in the night if he needs to.
- His bed is cozy, in a corner of his room, with a dim (0.8W LED) night light and a canopy. He also has a Gro clock that we activated when he was younger, but these days we rarely use it so it's just another night light. Windows are shuttered at night, especially in the summer.
- We're reasonably quiet; we don't watch action movies at full blast downstairs and expect him to fall asleep upstairs :-) but once he's deep asleep, almost nothing can wake him.
- It's extremely rare that he has nightmares, less than 5 x per year. No phobias or common fears.
- No noteworthy or chronic medical issues.