Dear Rabbi Ross. I have 3 children, and I’m having serious bedtime issues. My oldest is a 13-year-old girl, and she refuses to go to bed at night. The younger 2 are now following in her footsteps, and I feel like we’re losing control. I’m open to all ideas. Shira - Brooklyn
It was only a matter of time before I had to respond to the bedtime question. Bedtime is such a finicky subject. There are so many variables, and it’s difficult to pinpoint the issue without knowing details of each situation. This will be another 2-part article, as I’d love to hear your input and ideas before giving a full response.
We all know that kids don’t like going to bed. Once they’re past 11 years old, they also don’t like getting out of bed. (Same deal with showers). The key to bedtime is consistency. There needs to be a specific bedtime per age group, and you must be firm about it. Once you start slipping, it will be virtually impossible to get any of your kids to bed, and it can seriously undermine your parenting in other areas.
Let’s begin by discussing recommended bedtimes. According to many doctors, children from 3-5 need an average of 10-13 hours of sleep, children 6-13 need an average of 9-11 hours, ages 14-17 need 8-10 hours. Obviously, these times can differ for every child, however, it gives us an idea of where to start.
One of the biggest problems with bedtime is the “older child syndrome.” This occurs when you have older kids who have no set bedtime, or a much later one. It’s so much more difficult to get the little ones down while the older ones are still up.
Another issue is medication. Many children take different medications to help them focus. A common side effect of these medications is insomnia, which can also contribute to bedtime battles. Thinking of giving melatonin? According to some pediatricians, it can be helpful if used correctly and with the right child. Giving too much melatonin will backfire, and it is also important to encourage quiet, relaxing time after they take it. (Remember to always discuss giving any kinds of medicine or vitamins with your doctor before doing so).
The hardest part of bedtime is the sanity for the parents. I remember fondly when my little kinderlach went to bed at 6:30, and I had a few quiet hours to get stuff done. Once you have a child in middle school, and certainly high school, all bets are off. As parents, we have two choices. We can either wait till our kids go to sleep before going to bed ourselves, or we can wish our older kids a good night and hit the sack while they’re still up.
Let’s begin by reiterating what we discussed last week. The most important tools for bedtime are consistency and structure. Once your children understand that there is a schedule, it’ll be much easier to get them into bed. We’re talking all ages here, from toddlers through pre-teenagers.
Basically, you want to have a routine for bedtime that is rarely changed. For example, you could have your 1st grader take a shower at 6:45, be in bed with teeth brushed at 7:00, and lights out at 7:15. If you have younger kids, you might prefer to start their routine earlier, and older ones later. The goal is, your children should understand what they are expected to do, and when they need to do it.
However, I would like to share some tips with you. As always, some of these tips might work great, others, not so much.
Wishing you all a good Shabbos, and an easy fast.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.