Why Does a Child Misbehave at Bedtime?

Bedtime battles crop up in most households from time to time. Even children who control their behavior throughout the day can act up at night by refusing to go to bed or by leaving their bedrooms repeatedly. These bedtime misbehaviors can frustrate you when you want to spend an hour or two relaxing at the end of a long day. By understanding why these behaviors occur, you can often address some of the underlying issues.


Although you might not link many of children’s negative behaviors to sleep issues, tantrums, bad attitudes and hyperactivity can occur when your child becomes over-tired and sleep-deprived. The right amount of sleep for each child varies according to temperament, age and activity levels. In general, the Kids Health from Nemours website suggests that toddlers and preschoolers need between 10 to 13 hours of sleep; children ages 6 to 9 should get 10 hours and children ages 10 to 12 need nine hours 2.

Lack of a Consistent Routine

A regular bedtime routine can help children wind down and prepare for sleep. Even older kids can benefit from the regular bedtime rituals, including a bath or shower and some warm milk. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, a parent educator and author of "Raising Your Spirited Child," emphasizes the importance of going to bed at the same time each night. According to Kurcinka, falling asleep even an hour or so later than normal can put your body into a state of exhaustion similar to jet lag.

Too Tired or Not Tired Enough

Unlike adults who might start to slump and slouch or show other signs of exhaustion, children can become hyperactive when they become over-tired. In order to keep themselves awake, they might pick fights with siblings or chase the household pets.

On the other hand, children who nap late into the day or who fail to get enough physical activity might not be tired enough to fall asleep when bedtime rolls around. Dr. Marc Weissbluth, the author of "Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child," suggests incorporating at least 20 minutes of regular exercise into your child’s daily routine. You should also adjust your child’s nap or shorten it if you suspect a late or extra long nap might be interfering with your child’s bedtime.

Stress or Tension

Monitor your child's stress levels throughout the day to identify anything that might be troubling him, such as school or social pressures. Your own tension can also affect your child, so talk about any changes in your life that might be making your child tense. Putting stress and tension to rest before bedtime can often help your child fall asleep more quickly, which can lessen the potential for mischievous night-time behaviors.


Noises from the TV, loud music and chatter from other members of the household can over-stimulate your child and make it harder for him to settle down at night. He might be tempted to leave his room or stay up past his bedtime if he can hear loud household noises. Turn off the TV, computer and video games about an hour before bedtime. Dim the lights and spend time doing quiet activities such as reading or listening to calming music.

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