Another Study Says I’m Turning My Child Into A Jerk By Not Giving Him A Regular Bedtime

shutterstock_125444207__1381771605_142.196.167.223Ugh, bedtimes. This topic is a constant source of parental insecurity for me. Ever since I skipped the whole “cry it out” method, I’m convinced my child thinks I’m a chump. I put him to bed between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. every night. Every night he talks to himself for roughly two hours. According to a new study, he’s going to be having some behavioral issues if we keep this up.

The research points to the fact that there may be more behavioral difficulties in children with irregular bedtimes. British researchers interviewed mothers when their kids were three, five and seven. They were questioned about how often the kids had a regular bedtime: always, usually, sometimes, or never. Then they were questioned about their child’s behavior:

Almost 20 percent of 3-year-olds had no regular bedtime, compared with 9.1 percent of 5-year-olds and 8.2 percent of 7-year-olds. After controlling for many social, economic and parental behavioral factors, the scientists found that children with a regular bedtime, whether early or late, had fewer behavioral problems. And the longer irregular bedtimes persisted, the more severe the difficulties were.

So, does the fact that I put him to bed at the same time every night qualify, even though he doesn’t fall asleep until he’s damn well good and ready? What the heck is bedtime? Is it when we put our kids down or when they actually fall asleep?

I’ve never been really good with schedules. I thought I could just raise my kid with the same easy-breezy approach I have to life. I’m realizing that it is really important for me to get better about scheduling. I’m not saying scheduling is necessary for everyone – but I have a very stubborn child. I don’t know if it’s just his personality, or if I have fostered it by not being strict enough about things like this.

Parenting is humbling me endlessly.

(photo: Nejron Photo/ Shutterstock)

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  • Andrea

    Well, I found that most kids actually do crave routine. I think it’s weird since the 1st thing they want to do is challenge it, but they do in fact want it and also need it. I was so freakin anal (and still am even with 10 and 13 year olds in the house) with bedtimes and routines, but I did it because in the end it made MY life easier.

    I think what matters is that you do put him to bed at the same time, that you follow the same rituals every night, and that you remain firm at him STAYING in bed. It seems like is. You don’t mention at what time you put him down, but at 3 years old, he needs 10.5 hrs of nighttime sleep and 1 to 1.5 hours of daytime sleep. If you are doing all that, you are probably fine.

    • Katia

      This is absolutely true I’ve read many places that kids crave routine and predictability!

  • Wilskey

    You definitely have a bedtime for your kid. What he decides to do when it’s time to wind down is on him. I think that the study is more referring to the kids you see being dragged around grocery stores at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday or the ones disrupting your 10 o’clock viewing of a movie you planned on catching late specifically to avoid sharing the theater with small children. I’ve babysat a few kids without bedtimes and they typically get to run around until they drop. No imposed time to settle down at all.

    • Muggle

      That’s what I was about to say. I hate seeing kids at midnight viewings for movies, or in certain 24-hour stores past midnight. It’s ridiculous.

    • Cee

      Or restaurants! Restaurants are the worst. I once saw a mom berating her toddler past midnight for refusing to eat chili cheese fries. Of all things, chili cheese fries at midnight!
      I regretted that choice the next morning, but at least it was self inflicted. The poor kid didn’t have a choice.

    • Andrea

      Seeing obviously exhausted children late at night in restaurants always pisses me off. You just now the kid is miserable and all the parents care about is having a good time. Ugh.

    • Allie

      Agreed, except if you happen to be in a restaurant next to an airport hotel and see me there at an odd, but by no means unreasonable, hour, please use your head and know that we’re traveling and we’re all off our schedule. LO was tired but by no means disruptive and she enjoyed her roast chicken. I did not need snark from some random stranger.

    • Rachel

      Good lord, in college, I used to work at a sports bar that closd at midnight. People would be dragging their toddlers in for dinner at 11:30. And, of course the kids– by virtue of having no dinner or sleep at that hour–were HIGHLY disruptive to a sports bar environment. I’m really not a violent person, but I used to think about just slapping the idiot parents…

  • Véronique Houde

    You can’t really force your kid to fall asleep… But at least you’re putting him to bed at the same time and he’s staying in bed without throwing a fit!! That my friend is called success!! Think of it this way – he’s not sleeping, but he’s having quiet time, which is still pretty beneficial. And he’s respecting your rules in his own way. STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP MARIA!

    • Katia

      Agreed, the only the
      Ing you could do better is stick to exactly the same time. Might not be that difficult since you’re almost there. I can’t say much because I’m a total failure at this (bedtime)

    • JLH1986

      Quiet time is resting, even if he isn’t sleeping. My dr. tells me to make sure I stay quiet, no tv, no phone etc. if I’m struggling to sleep because rest is rest. So I’m sure he’s just fine!

    • Aldonza

      Exactly. I think it’s the structure more than anything else that helps. I generally find that the kids I teach that have the least amount of structure in their home lives have the most behavior problems.

  • Ally

    At quick glance, I thought that kid was a smurf.

    • Véronique Houde

      OMG I thought it was too by looking real fast, and then you wrote that and I went “wait, what!? it isn’t?” LOL

    • Muggle

      I actually scrolled up to make sure the kid wasn’t a smurf.

    • Simone

      Oh yes. It does look like a smurf….

  • Simone

    When he spends two hours talking himself to sleep, is he upset and yelling, or is he chill and chatting? Because if the latter, I see no problem here. If you’re putting him down at roughly the same time each night, and he’s sorting himself out and going to sleep on his own, that’s great. If on the other hand he’s got you suckered in to going in and persuading him on and off for two hours, that would suck and maybe life would be better if you could fix that.

    Also just wondering, is there a reason why it’s not quite a definite time? If he’s always being put down at roughly the same time, might it not be easier for you to point to a clock and exclaim, Oh gosh, time for bed, look at the clock!

    • Maria Guido

      He’s momentarily upset when we put him down, but then he just talks to himself. If we were to keep going in his room, there would probably be a problem because he seems to only act up when we go in there. I never go in there unless I smell poop. (ha)
      Tonight, for example, we put him down at 8:30. He stopped talking at about 10:30.
      Maybe I will try the clock thing. ;)

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      Our son used to do the *exact* same thing. It used to really bother us. But then we figured it was just him. He talks all the time, and he would talk himself to sleep. He just kind of outgrew it eventually. He’s 4 now, and usually he falls asleep within about 20 min., but every once in a while I’ll still hear him chatting after almost an hour. It’s calming, little kids usually talk to themselves while playing/thinking, and he’s practicing verbal skills. It’s all good! He could be wailing or whining or otherwise miserable.

  • katyjohanna

    But the problem is, this study establishes correlation but not causation. I think it more plausible that rather than irregular bedtimes causing behavioural difficulties, kids with behavioural difficulties are more likely to have irregular bedtines. Perhaps that’s because kids who go on to discuss develop behavioural problems are more difficult to settle as babies so it’s much harder for parents to establish a routine. Maybe there are other factors making children less likely to have a routine and more likely to have behavioural difficulties. But this study doesn’t seem to address these issues so in no way should it lead a loving and attentive mother to feel guilty for doing what she feels is right for her family.

    • Andrea

      I don’t know, I think it’s pretty well established that regular bedtime = all kinds of good effects. Maybe not quite as specific as this, but I am not sure anyone would argue that not having routine and bedtimes is a great thing for toddlers

    • Simone

      I’m always deeply moved when I see someone point out the fact that correlation does not equal causation. It warms my heart. Thank you, Katyjohanna.

      However doesn’t it say that a number of social and economic factors were controlled for? Maybe they got pretty close to causation without manipulating the key variables.

  • rrlo

    I just want to share that I am originally from Bangladesh – and that is a whole country of 130 million people who grew up never having a strict bedtime. You can argue that it’s a third world country – but doubt that it is related to the non-strict bedtime :). I bet Bangladesh isn’t the only country where not putting little kids on a schedule or routine is unheard of. So I really, truly would not worry about it. Cheers.

    • rrlo

      Woops, correction: I bet Bangladesh isn’t the only country where putting little kids on a schedule or routine is unheard of.

    • Simone

      It is an entirely different culture though, isn’t it? Indian cultures tend to be more communal and less individualistic, and also use time differently across all aspects life as I understand it.

  • Momma425

    My parents put my siblings to bed at 8pm every night. Sometimes, we hit the pillow and were out like lightbulbs. Other times, we sat up and read books quietly, talked to ourseles, or listened to soft music. In our home, bedtime meant we were in bed- pajamas on, teeth brushed, and tucked in. What time we chose to fall asleep was on us.

  • Shelly G

    It did say “whether early or late” and I choose to think of that in terms of the childs age. Regardless, you have a basic bedtime, and if he chooses to not sleep, that’s on him.

  • Rachel

    Haha, kid does the same thing. If he’s a little asshole in a few years, I guess I know what to blame now.

  • CrushLily

    I think as long as your kid is getting a sufficient amount of sleep than that is the most important thing. There is lots of evidence to suggest that behavioural problems are also due to tiredness (I know because I saw it on Supernanny) so if your kid is getting a solid 11-12 hours a night it shouldn’t matter what time they go to bed. That said, my kid is tucked up in bed at 7 pm. I have absolutely had ENOUGH of being a parent by then, so seeing kids dragged around shopping centres at night confounds me – I just don’t get it why anyone would want to do it! The only other problem is if they are used to a later bedtime it might make getting up earlier for school harder -> lack of sleep -> behavioural issues.

  • Lala

    I feel like if this study were true that most kids would turn out to be jerks. I feel like as long as you try your best and you aren’t bringing your child out to the bars at ten pm then you are doing alright! :)

  • Melissa

    I think that if you are putting your child down to sleep around the same general time every night, and that child is taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, then that bedtime is not the “correct” bedtime for that child. You may want to experiment with moving the bedtime around to figure out where the “sweet spot” is. Your instinct may be to put your child to bed later, but I have found in my own experience that when my child takes a long time to go to sleep, it’s because I’ve waited too long to put her to bed. Also, if the child still naps during the day, you want the bedtime to occur at least 3-4 hours after they wake up from nap.

  • Allie

    I am sick to death of all these ridiculous studies telling us we’re all doing just about everything wrong every day and our kids are going to be massively screwed up as a result. Here’s a study for you… people who ignore stupid studies live happier lives. My test group was me. I asked myself if I worried about studies. My answer was I used to and it made me miserable. Now I don’t and I’m happier. Case closed : )

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