`But I'm not tired!'

Children's bedtime needn't be a battleground, as long as you time it right
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The Independent Culture
BEFORE YOU have children, you imagine their bedtime will be a calm, peaceful time. But, as many harassed parents can testify, it is one of the major battlegrounds of child-rearing.

My son, aged nine, nags constantly for a later bedtime. He complains that he is the only boy in his year who doesn't watch Match of the Day. He protests that he can't get to sleep early anymore. Weakening, we sometimes allow him to stay up. But then my daughter objects. Aged six, she's ready for bed by eight o'clock. Understandably though, she doesn't want to go up by herself. Between the two of them, bedtime lasts till nearly 10pm. By which time my husband and I are too tired to do more than follow on up to our own bed.

In my childhood, bedtime was 7.30 sharp and no arguments. But many parents report that today's children are going to bed much later than we did at their age. Sheila Munro, Training Officer for the Parent Network, agrees: "It's got a lot to do with the TV culture, and parents working longer hours." She says what matters is the amount of sleep children get, not the time they go to bed.

"In previous generations, it was more a culture of you eat at a certain time, and you sleep at a certain time". Munro warns, "it is as vital as ever that children get enough sleep. Often the problem is that children go to bed late and get up early. Also, it isn't just the amount of sleep that matters, it is the quality. If they watch lots of TV before they go to bed, the mind is stimulated and that can affect dream patterns."

Michelle Stannard-King finds that peer pressure to watch TV makes her sons Michael, seven, and Dino, six, want to stay up. "I did have them in a nice routine when they were younger - they used to be in bed by 6.30. But now with Michael at junior school, they say `So-and-so watches this on TV, we want to watch it'."

Coming home late from work, Cath Gall was very aware of the temptation to keep her children, Lauren, 11, Thomas, nine and Nicholas, six, up. "In my previous job, I spent a lot of time travelling. I'd get in and I hadn't seen much of them. But I had to get them off to bed because of the busy day tomorrow." Now that she gets home earlier, she continues with a fairly strict bedtime routine. "My husband Bill and I think it's important for children to realise they've had their time, and that late evening is our time."

Dawn Canham, who educates her daughters at home, agrees that there is a pressure from children to stay up later. "But it is important for me to have some time for me - maybe because I have them all day." It is sometimes hard to balance the needs of her younger daughter Katie, five, with her eight-year-old, Rachel. "Rachel is allowed to read in bed until nine o'clock, and Katie wants to go to bed later because she knows Rachel's still reading."

What works best, says Munro, is a strict bedtime routine. "If you have to invent the wheel every night, it'll be harder. Sometimes, all the action's going on in the sitting-room and the children are meant to just magically vanish. Of course, they don't want to go."

"But if a child knows that this is what we do at weekdays and it's later at weekends, you've got a better chance of co-operation." Adult evenings become increasingly a thing of the past. "As children grow into the next stage of development, often bedtime is where it shows. Then, even if you've got the best routine in the world, your child could suddenly move on and you have to renegotiate."

Parent Network, 0171-735 1214

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