I dread bedtime. As the late afternoon arrives, I already tense up for the long struggle ahead. My kids hate going to sleep. They dance around, and run away when it is time to put their pajamas on. I try all sorts of threats and bribes, but even after I get them into bed, it's still not over. They keep popping out–for a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom, or to retrieve a favorite toy. Bedtime always ends the same way, when I lose it and start screaming. I hate it when they cry themselves to sleep, but by then I am so worn out that my self-restraint is low. I know lots of parents complain about bedtime, but I feel like it's not really as bad in other people's homes as it is in mine.


5:00 o'clock blues

Dear 5:00 o'clock blues,

I am sure many readers are identifying with your bedtime struggle. Bedtime is indeed a tense time in many families, for exactly the reason you describe. Parents also get tired after the long day, and by the time bedtime arrives, many parents are even more tired than their kids seem to be. Nevertheless, the tension you describe, and particularly the anticipatory dread you are feeling is not a healthy dynamic, and for that reason alone it is worth addressing.

It is interesting to note that you feel your children "hate going to sleep" as much as you hate putting them to sleep. I wonder if your children really hate this daily struggle as much as you do. For them, it might be one of the most fun and exciting times of the day. How far can they push you? How long can they drag this out? You describe needing to catch them and wrestle them into pajamas. I would suggest taking yourself out of the picture, and making them accountable for their own behavior. In other words, you will establish a system in which anyone who behaves undesirably faces undesirable consequences.

You can start by announcing that from tonight on, you will be reading bedtime stories on the couch to everyone in pajamas. Those who don't put on their pajamas and return to the couch within two minutes will miss the goodnight story. Of course, you need to change any child who is too young to change themselves. Change this child on the couch, away from the others. You can even make it more fun by setting a timer, so that your children must race against the clock. The key is that they will not be racing against you, but rather against an external arbitrator. Perhaps the first one into pajamas can choose a bedtime story.

A child who continues to resist putting on their pajamas and opts instead to miss out on the story may get a consequence such as having to put on pajamas before dinner, rather than after dinner with the others. Simply explain that this is because "it takes them so long to change." Base your actions on facts, rather than emotions.

Now for you. Tell yourself that it's hard now, but it is going to change. You have a plan to end the struggle and make bedtime more pleasant. But in the meantime, acknowledge that bedtime is a tense time for you, and schedule yourself a break before bedtime. Have a coffee, take a shower, or even spend ten minutes alone in your room. Often bedtime struggles are exacerbated by the parent's need to finally get a break and some time for themselves. To guarantee that this won't be a factor for you, make time for yourself so you won't feel that your kids are taking that away from you.

Good luck and Sweet Dreams,

Tzippora Price, M.Sc.