Our 10 year old stepdaughter has trouble going to bed at night. She refuses to go to bed, and fights us very hard, to the point where our only hope of her going to bed is to physically pick her up and put her in her bed. Then, we have to keep picking her up and putting her back into bed, up to a couple of dozen times.

Her attitude and behaviour are fine until we ask her to go to bed... it's like a switch.

The routine goes a little like this:

We say godnight and ask her to go to bed. The first one or two requests are usually ignored. When we stop requesting and start telling, she responds with "No", "make me" etc.

This is usually followed by delaying tactics or inventing reasons to come back downstairs. We reach a point where the only response she will receive is the word "Bed", followed by physically putting her there if necessary.

It can go on like this until after midnight, and she will vehemently complain, insult, argue, scream, shout, hit things, slam doors, say hurtful things, throw stuff, and has at one point struck one of us.

We have recently suffered through 3 weeks of this with only a single night off (which was rewarded). We have been consistent with not budging on bedtime while allowing other things that aren't as important, so the frequency started to lessen. However it crops back up and is a real pain on a weeknight - and I don't want to give over any random weeknight to keeping one of the kids in bed.

Is there a better way to deal with this other than our current method of asking nicely up to 3 times, then telling, then physically putting her in bed?

We do think that she just wants more attention and are doing our best to give her as much as possible. Assuming we can find & help with the root cause, how do we deal with the symptoms without losing our sleep-deprived minds?

4 Answers 4


Your child's pediatrician or GP might be resource for managing this, and can also rule out a health condition that might be affecting the ability to sleep, for example, a thyroid imbalance.

One thing to look at is what activities are available to her after bedtime. Her computer account should be shutting itself down at a certain time every evening. While you are working on resolving the bedtime problem, the television will have to be off for everyone in the house starting at her bedtime.

You may want to just let her read or wander around or do lego or whatever, wake her up at her normal time in the morning, and keep things moving during the day so that she doesn't take a nap. Probably, within a couple of weeks, this would result in her figuring things out for herself.

Personally, with a 10yo, I still do the whole bedtime routine thing. This might not be your style, but I'll describe it in case it's helpful:

  • pleasant interaction during the pajama - teeth brushing - etc. routine (I'm wandering in and out, doing laundry-type things, and making sure child is progressing with getting ready for bed)

  • then comes the bedtime reading, which we both look forward to. We might be propped up on pillows next to each other, each taking a character -- in other words, sharing the reading out loud -- or I might be in a comfortable chair next to the bed, with the child snuggled up in bed listening, with a stuffed animal to hug. For bedtime reading, I avoid material that is very exciting, such as Harry Potter.

  • when I turn out the light (except for a night light), we do the kiss good night. Tone of voice at this stage is key. Sometimes I ask, What was the best part of your day? Sometimes I share what was the best part of my day (usually something involving the child). Sometimes there's a reminder about what's happening the next day, e.g. tomorrow is your piano lesson, come straight home from school please, or tomorrow you have a check-up after school, and I'll pick you up at dismissal.

  • then I listen to a podcast to keep the child company. I might do a little bit of back massage -- but only for about 2 minutes.

  • one of my children has a condition that brings along insomnia. For this child, if he's still awake after 30 minutes or so, I have him use the bathroom again, and then I let him listen to a podcast himself, to distract himself from the thoughts that are going around and around in his head. Podcasts that work well for this are Car Talk and the Canadian program Comedy Factory. These are light, mildly entertaining, not too exciting, and rather formulaic -- which makes them reassuring. (I find them helpful myself!) Make sure they are set up so that when the program is over, the mp3 player turns itself off (instead of playing another episode). Alternatively, you can use a book on tape that the child has already listened to a couple of times -- then it will be just a bit boring, and not exciting.

  • if the falling asleep process is taking so long that I'm getting sleepy, or losing patience, then I let the child know I'm going to go clean the kitchen but I will check on him from time to time.

Now, in your case, you've gotten yourselves a bit entrenched in a conflict. Here's what you might want to do in this case:

  • if her normal bedtime is, say, 9:00, temporarily move it to 10:00.

  • have her get into pajamas and brush teeth well before bedtime. For example, at 7 pm you could say, Yes, we can play Monopoly Junior, but please get ready for bed first. While you get ready, I'll set up the game.

  • if you think she's going to balk if you ask her to head into her room for the bedtime reading, just get started on the sofa. When you're in a really interesting part, say you need to use the bathroom, and when you come out (hopefully she takes the hint to go too), say the light is too bright (or dim, or whatever) for you in the living room -- Let's read some more, but let's continue in your room.

  • when you see that first yawn, it's time to look for a good stopping place.

We have a gadget that plays white noise, or ocean waves, etc., called a sound scape, which is quite helpful.

Swimming, hiking, biking, etc. during the day can be very helpful.

My philosophy is that bedtime should be the nicest part of a child's day. If the child looks forward to the snuggling and the bedtime reading, then there will be less conflict.

  • 5
    I think we've made enough progress that I can come back on this now. With a mixture of discipline and establishing a bedtime routine, we found that me spending time with her at bedtime made a huge difference. We figured out the issue was really attention, she felt she didn't get enough from me (I work almost the whole day, she doesn't see me alot) so dedicating 10 minutes each night for a chat and a game of cards has helped immeasurably. she feels more loved, we feel less stressed, our home is a happy place now. she couldn't (or wouldn't) tell us with words, so it took a while to figure it out
    – nurgle
    Sep 22, 2015 at 8:49

Have you asked her why she resists bedtime so much? By 10 she should be fully capable of discussing this on an adult level. Ask her. Don't do it during bedtime, at least at first (though later on that may be necessary to get all of the details). Don't do it in an accusatory way. Just ask: "Why don't you like going to bed?"

If it started recently, there may be a trigger. She may have nightmares. She's close to (or in) puberty; she may be experiencing hormonal changes that affect her sleep. Maybe something is going on at school. Or maybe this is just where she chooses to make a show of exerting control over her life (and come into conflict with you as a result).

She also may simply have a hard time going to sleep. Around that age it took me hours, literally, to fall asleep - starting at 10pm. It took me years to learn how to cope with that - and while I was a compliant child and never utterly refused to go to bed, I certainly stayed up reading covertly much of the time while I learned to deal with it.

If she is having trouble going to sleep, or is frustrated that it's boring, or any number of other similar issues, come prepared with some solutions. Maybe there are things you can compromise on, like giving her a book light or a backlit Kindle so she doesn't have a big light on but can still read until she falls asleep.

For me, I liked to make up stories, usually imagining I'm a superhero or I'm the main character in a book I was reading. I would spend hours just in my head acting out adventures - and eventually fall asleep without getting too bored. This is a common problem with very intelligent children, particularly ones with very active minds who need stimulation: being in an unstimulating (dark, quiet) environment is boring and frustrating. I could imagine acting out. Give her the tools to deal with that.

  • 1
    Good answer. I did the same: went to bed and read. I don't remember that this upset my parents; my kids, though, had a "lights out" time, even into early high school. The Kindle idea, though, I think might be detrimental to sleeping as per the most recent studies on light from electronic devices. (Not so with regular reading.) Jul 17, 2015 at 22:45
  • I am not sure when the information about lighting from reading devices could deter sleeping -- but know it is widely known. LINK Web MD I agree that simply asking and making the child in question a part of her own 'team', means she will cooperate more. Our daughter wanted 10 minutes extra of 'out of her room time'. Giving her that got us her full cooperation. She also understood that we wanted some quiet alone time, too. Once we got over 'us' vs 'her', it worked.
    – WRX
    Mar 25, 2017 at 13:39

The bedtime issue certainly sounds familiar as we went through it with all three of our children, now grown. The suggestions above are all good and each parent should try combinations until they find the right touch for each child.Our kids still talk about being sent to bed "when the sun was still high in the sky."

But I want to share the experience of my son and his family. They are at the far end of the spectrum, somewhere to the left of "relaxed." They have have three children, eldest 17, youngest 4.

Their practice is to encourage but not demand.

As far as bedtime, they kick off the routine as mentioned above. If there is resistance, they ignore it and stay off the battle field, no matter what. They follow the same practices with eating. When the meal is ready, they announce it. Those who come, eat; those who do not are on their own. How does this work out? Sometimes a child will be the last one to bed, turning off the lights or not. I know how that sounds, but there are absolutely no battles at bedtime or at the supper table. These kids are raging with energy, happy, doing well in school, and a delight to be around. There is a Chinese saying, something to the effect of "When the wind blows, the tall grasses bend over." No resistance from the grass/parent, and soon the wind dies down and the sun comes out.My guess is this would take two or three weeks to kick in, but those are three weeks of no battles.

  • While I would not choose this method because we wanted some adult alone time for an hour each evening, I can see how this might be the perfect answer for some. Welcome!
    – WRX
    Mar 25, 2017 at 13:41

My advice only comes from other things I have read recently on this site - if I could find the exact questions again I would link them.

First, I would read from a similar question for a 7-year-old. Try looking at This Answer. Communication is important because it keeps you from just shooting in the dark.

You may have better luck by "counting down" until bedtime. By this, I mean give her an hour warning, a thirty minute warning, a 10 minute warning, and a 5 minute warning. (or some set interval of warnings anyway) This should replace your "3 times asking nicely". This helps give her some time to adjust to the idea that soon the day will be over.

Then, it is bedtime. She might be upset that she has no choice in this matter. ("No, make me") Giving her a choice on something else may help her feel more in control of herself. Maybe she gets to choose her bedtime outfit, or, the best idea I came up with(I think), is to let her choose a book that you can read to her, since this also might help if she is acting out of need for attention. If she still stalls and tries to delay bedtime, it cuts into book reading time.

If doing all of that doesn't work, make sure you keep communicating. There is a reason she does what she does, and you might get more details which help you come up with a better solution.

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