My child leaves the room after I put them to bed
Anxiety at bedtime leads to children lying in bed worried or frightened and unable to settle to sleep, or waking and being unable to settle back to sleep. Children with insomnia (being unable to sleep) due to anxiety may worry during the day about being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep, find it hard to fall asleep at bedtime but fall asleep easily at other times (e.g. when watching television), seem tense at bedtime, and be tired during the day. Helping them overcome their night time worries teaches them skills they can use in other areas..
Helpful Kip books
Free sleep strategies
1. Bedtime pass
For children who have a difficult time staying in their bedroom or call out frequently, making a Bedtime Pass may be helpful. Your child can use their Bedtime Pass for one trip out of their room or one visit from you after you have said “Goodnight”.
Explain the bedtime pass to your child
- Sit down with your child and explain what you are going to do.
- Explain that your child is having difficulty going to sleep on his or her own and that you have come up with an idea of how to help (for example, “I know it’s hard for you to go to sleep so I have thought of an idea for you”).
- Explain the strategy – say something like “You and I are going to make a pass for you to use every night. You will get one pass per night. After Mum or Dad has put you to bed you can use the pass for one free trip out of the room, for a reason such as if you want to give Mum or Dad one last hug or you need a drink. If you do use the pass you need to give it to Mum or Dad and go straight back to bed”. Stress that it needs to be a short, specific reason (5 minutes or less).
- Explain what happens after the child has used the pass, for example, “After you use your pass, you need to go back to bed and stay there for the rest of the night”.
With any relaxation technique, it is best to be taught when not stressed. You and your child should then make the pass. You can use cardboard or note cards cut to about the size of a small photograph as long as the pass is sturdy. Allow your child to colour in or write on the pass to make it their own.
Just before bed, hand the pass to your child and remind them of its purpose. Follow your typical bedtime routine and then leave the room. If your child asks to use the pass, allow this and then take the pass. Send your child back to bed and remind him or her that it is time to stay in the room and be quiet. For the first few nights when you are using the pass, remind your child of the rules of using the pass, give them the pass and follow the same routine.
What if my child calls out or comes out of their room AFTER using the pass?
- If they call out: Ignore this behaviour – even if it gets worse.
- If they come out: Take them back to bed with no or little talking.
Remember to reward your child for being able to use the bedtime pass and stay in their room after that. Reward good behaviour in the morning, as rewards can really motivate a child to improve their behaviour. Rewards work best when given soon after the behaviour, not after a few days. See the Rewards strategy for more ideas.
Rewards can really motivate a child to improve their behaviour. They work best if given soon after the behaviour not after a few days. After a couple of weeks, they may not work as well but by then you hope your child’s behaviour has improved! Reward charts are appropriate for children 3 years and over.
Set up the chart
- Create it: You can choose from lots of different styles of charts, or make one yourself. Older children might like to create their own chart, perhaps with a drawing or photo of the reward they’re trying to earn. You can also download free charts from the internet. E.g. try searching for “reward charts to colour in”
- Place it: Put the chart where your child can see it. Keep in mind that your older child might prefer a spot that’s private – for example, his bedroom, instead of on the fridge.
- Decide which stickers or tokens to use: star stickers work well for younger children, whereas older kids might like points or other markers.
- Keep rewards small and cheap e.g. stickers, stamps. It is not necessary for rewards to be or expensive, but rather a small symbol that you are happy with your child’s behaviour.
- Choose short-term rewards: Most children start by liking the idea of collecting stickers or tokens, but the novelty can wear off quite quickly. When this happens, swapping the stickers or tokens for some short-term rewards can help them keep their eyes on the main prize. You could let your child choose from a range of objects, events and activities – for example, getting to choose an activity for special time with mum or dad, e.g. a trip to the park, a family bike ride, going to the swimming pool, or watching a favourite movie (but not just before bed!).
- Try not to make food the reward
- You can build on rewards e.g. 4 stickers = a lucky dip (remember to keep the prizes small and cheap) or a trip to the park or a choice of DVD after dinner.
Rewarding your child
- Choose the behaviour you want to encourage: Use clear and positive descriptions of the behaviour, and talk with your child about the behaviour you want to see.
- Increase your child’s chance of success to begin with: Make sure your child has a chance to get a few rewards over the first few days e.g. at first you may reward them for staying in their room at the start of the night. Once they can do this, you may then reward them only if they stay in their room the whole night.
- Give the reward as soon as possible after the good behaviour: e.g. first thing in the morning. Some specific praise reminds your child why she’s getting a sticker or token. For example, “I really like the way you stayed in your bed the whole night. Here is a star for your chart”.
- NEVER take away a reward: If your child has earned it, they keep it! If your child doesn’t earn a star, just move on. Focus on encouraging your child to try again.
3. Bedtime fading
If your child is taking more than an hour to fall asleep after your chosen bedtime, you may find that trying to put your child to bed at the earlier time results in bedtime struggles. For some children it is best to gradually make their bedtime earlier, starting at the time they are naturally tired and ready for bed.
Setting a suitable bedtime
Work out when your child is naturally falling asleep and set this as the temporary bedtime. For example, if you want your child to go to bed at 8:30pm, but they usually do not fall asleep until 10:00pm, choose 10:00pm as the temporary bedtime. Once they are falling asleep easily and quickly at this temporary bedtime then make their bedtime earlier by 15 minutes. When they are falling asleep easily and quickly at this new bedtime then bring it forward by another 15 minutes.Keep on doing this until you have reached the bedtime you want (for example, 8:30pm).
Get morning light
Morning light also helps set an earlier bedtime and helps keep the body clock on the right track. Open the curtains in the bedroom, eat breakfast in a sunny area, or spend some time outdoors.
Keep trying for a number of nights, and encourage others caring for your child to use the same strategies. Being consistent will increase your chances of success with improving your child’s sleep patterns.