Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

A new take on kids’ bedtime that can make evenings easier

A column that tackles behavioural problems from toddlers to teens.

The problem

Rather than a treasured end to the day, bedtime is a time of dread – a routine that goes on forever.

Story continues below advertisement

"Daddy, I'm scared."

"I need a drink of water."

"I have to tell you something I forgot to tell you."

"Daddy. Daddy. Daddy."

I mean forever.

What not to do

Do not read just one more book or give an encore rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb. Once the official bedtime has arrived – whenever you decide that may be – anything you do other than disengage is a mistake. As soon as bath time, story time and whatever other nighttime ritual you have is over, interaction between you and your child must end. And since they won't end it, you must.

Story continues below advertisement

What to do

The standard definition of bedtime is a child is in bed, the lights are off, the room is quiet. I would offer a different definition: Bedtime is the end of meaningful contact with parents.

"Goodnight, my darling, darling."

"Goodnight, biggest Daddy."

Then after the three hugs and the three "Goodnight Daddy's" that are a part of their standard goodnight ritual, it is bedtime.

"Daddy, just for tonight. One more hug."

Story continues below advertisement

But bedtime – the end of meaningful contact with parent – has arrived. "Goodnight my darling," says Evan's father as he leaves his son's room.

"But Daddy, just for tonight. Please. Daddy." But, because it is bedtime, Evan's father is no longer there. Daddy has been replaced by what I like to think of as a robot parent, who is there for genuine emergencies, but no meaningful contact. So when Evan comes to his father with yet another, "Do spiders attack more in the dark?" all Evan gets is a robot-like, "Go to bed." Not angry. Just stated. Nothing more. Definitely not "Evan, how many times do I have to tell you to go to bed?" Which will invariably get, "But Daddy, I can hear them. You have to come sit with me. I can hear them."

The hardest thing about bedtime for kids is the separation. But if you make it consistently clear that once bedtime has arrived they are on their own, they will learn not to try very hard to get your attention or your company, because they will never succeed.

A note: This definition of bedtime does mean that if they are in their room after bedtime, and maybe the light is on, and maybe they are doing a quiet activity – not bothering anybody – that is okay. Kids have different patterns for settling themselves down for the night. This bedtime definition allows for those differences. Overall, it is a definition of bedtime that can make for much more pleasant evenings.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books including I'd Listen to My Parents if They'd Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at awolf@globeandmail.com.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.