Night-Night No-No’s: Things Every Parent Should Avoid at Bedtime

by Tom Burns

Photo redit: sola deo gloria, Moment Open/Getty Images

Bedtime isn’t easy. As parents, we have a very definite goal — get the kids to sleep — but, almost every night, there are obstacles that get in the way. (Not least of which is your kid’s adamant belief that they are, in fact, not tired. Nope, not even a little bit.)

Some of those obstacles can’t be avoided — things like sports practices, loud neighbors, or thunderstorms. But even when we think the situation is under our control, and we’ve managed the bedtime preliminaries by the book, we parents can still shoot ourselves in the foot. I do it all the time. I think I’ve almost got my daughter down and then BOOM! One wrong word, one wrong action, and I just know: “Dear Lord, she’s going to be up for at least another hour.”

My hope now is that other parents can learn from my mistakes. So if you’re struggling with closing the deal at bedtime, keep in mind this list of things that you absolutely, positively should never, ever do when you’re trying to get your kid to sleep.

At bedtime, you should never…

Start a tickle fight. Yes, it seems like a fun, spontaneous thing to do while stuffed into a twin bed. But even under the best-case scenario, you’re going to fill your kid with adrenaline. In the worst case, you’re going to take an elbow to the nose.

Offer too many details about what you’re going to do after they fall asleep. It’s best to keep things vague (“Oh, I have some work to do”) because being honest (“I’ll probably eat cookies and watch Netflix”) is just going to make them stubborn and resentful.

Get too philosophical. This one is hard, because, in my experience, kids always bring out the big questions about life, the universe, and everything when they’re drifting off to sleep. And, while those conversations can be amazing, you do want to be very aware of the emotions you’re awakening. Getting too deep about man’s inhumanity to man or the cold vastness of outer space is a good way to give your kid a case of the “existential dreads” right before bedtime.

Let your child pick their own glass for one last drink of water. I caught onto that one really quickly after I watched my daughter whip out a giant tumbler for a late night “sip” and chug it like she was doing a keg stand. Assuming your kid isn’t seriously dehydrated, they only need a Dixie cup or smaller sized sip to wet their whistle.

Ask if they finished all their homework. Because, if they say “No,” what’s going to happen next? You’re going to get them up, force them to work on it, and everyone is going to be tired and miserable tomorrow. Get the sleep instead and let your well-rested kid deal with the consequences at school in the morning.

Let them watch any TV show or video that you haven’t seen before. You never, ever want to introduce unexpected variables at bedtime and, far too often, I’ve agreed to allow my daughter to watch one last thing, only to get blindsided by a horror-movie commercial, a spooky voice, or an unexpectedly sad story when all I wanted was to chill my kid out a little bit before bed. So, if you have to show your kid a video before bed, keep it familiar and try out new stuff earlier in the day.

Get into a deep discussion about what it’d feel like to turn into a rock. I blame William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble for this one. Sylvester was always one of my favorite kids’ books, but there’s a sequence where Sylvester, in a moment of panic, accidentally transforms into a boulder, thanks to a magic, wish-fulfilling pebble. And Sylvester remains trapped in rock-form for months, all while his parents are desperate to figure out what happened to him. It never struck me as particularly upsetting … until I read it with my daughter in bed. And she started asking me what it would feel like to be held completely immobile, unable to move, for months at a time, or how I would feel if she disappeared one day and I had no idea what happened to her. She asked question after question and — to make a long story short — she slept great that night and I had a nightmare. Yep, I woke up in sweaty terror and immediately ran into her room to make sure that she was still there and wasn’t … you know … a rock. Just something to keep in mind during your bedtime reading: If you can feel yourself getting upset by the story (or the resulting discussion), maybe you should put down the book and try something else. Because you’ve eventually got to get to sleep too.


Do you have your own set of night-time no-no’s? Things that you absolutely, positively will not let your kid do right before bed? If so, let us benefit from your experience and tell us in the comments below!