Aren’t 4 Year Olds Supposed to Have a Bedtime?

Aren't 4 Year Olds Supposed to Have a Bedtime CradleRockingMama.com

One thing that is NOT awesome about all this “engaging with the world” activity is the complete decimation of bedtime.

My boys both stopped napping during the day between age 2 and 3. No amount of effort could make them nap, and believe me, I tried!

To ensure they get enough sleep, we have an alarm that goes off every night at 7:00 p.m. We call it the “bedtime alarm”. When the alarm sounds, Jed shouts “Bedtime alarm!” and the boys go straight to the bath.

After the bath, they go straight to bed, where they are asleep between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m.

Since every morning they wake up at 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. regardless of what time they go to sleep, this makes certain they’re getting at least 11 hours straight per night.

Shortly before tee ball started, Darrel and I had a discussion where we decided that our boys weren’t getting quite  enough sleep, and pushed the bedtime alarm back to 6:45 p.m. We thought a gradual dropping of bath time wouldn’t be as noticeable for the boys, and eventually, we’d have it at 6:30 p.m. with a bedtime of 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., ensuring a nice 12 hour stretch of sleep per night.

And then tee ball.

While tee ball was a wonderful experience, all of the games started at either 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. Since they each lasted an hour, you can imagine that bedtime was trashed.

Some nights, the kids weren’t falling asleep until 10:00 p.m.! After the games ended at 8:00 p.m., we wouldn’t get home until about 8:45 p.m., and then the kids were HUNGRY (even if they ate right before the game).

No matter how fast I am in the kitchen, there’s no way to have food on the table in less than 20 minutes when you make everything from scratch.

Even re-heating leftovers takes more time when two or three separate meals need to be warmed up.

On tee ball nights, there was no way to skip bath time, either. Even at breakneck speed, that takes at least ten minutes for us.

Overall, while I loved tee ball and will do it again next year, I’m not thrilled with the bed time situation.

For over a month, my kiddos earned LOTS of red and white chips. When my kids get tired, they get downright cranky and argumentative. Lack of sleep makes them lose what little self-control kids their age have.

We had more temper tantrums, more fighting, more whining, more time-outs (for both me and the boys!) and more general behavior issues in that time than we had for a long time before that.

Worse, both kids started to fall asleep in the car within minutes. That mades short car rides absolute agony, as neither boy wakes up well from short naps.

After a 10-15 minute nap, both boys wake up in the mood to hate the world. They cry. They whine. They refuse to move. They are NOT HAPPY and they make sure everyone around them knows it!

I’m really just baffled by the whole bedtime thing, actually. Looking around for activities to get the kids involved in, I see so many are evening activities.

While I understand those things are scheduled to accommodate working parents, I’m just left wondering “But what about the children?”

Don’t 3, 4, and 5 year old kids need a bed time?

It brings back memories of my single, “I can operate on my personal circadian rhythm” days when I would go grocery shopping at my “feels normal for me” night-owl times of 1:00 a.m. Even at that hour of the day (night?) I would see small children running around the grocery store.

I always wondered why those little kids weren’t in bed.

Being in Houston, where a lot of the jobs are shift work, I decided that maybe their families kept the same schedule as their shift-working parents, so probably 1:00 a.m. was the equivalent of 1:00 P.m. for their family.

Now, I’m not so sure. It seems like there is a great lack of respect for the sleep needs of small children running around in our country. 

Just as I speculated that a lot of kids are prescribed drugs because of unknown food issues, I now wonder how many kids are considered “problem children” for behavior caused simply by not getting enough sleep!

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a pleasant person to be around when I’m bone tired. Why would we expect our children to be any different?

Well, since most of the world has two working parents (or single parents who work two jobs), I know evening activities for kids will continue to be a phenomenon of our time.

We’re all sort of between a rock and a hard place on this one. We want our kids to get enough sleep, but we want them to participate in fun things like tee ball and other groups and activities.

I can’t make any judgements about what other parents do for their kids, but for our part, I’m going to try very hard to strictly avoid activities in the evenings (other than tee ball, which only lasts 6 weeks).

(This also fits right in with one of my tips on making full time work manageable with food allergies, conveniently enough!)

My kids may miss out on some fun things they could be doing at that hour, but I’d rather not miss out on having pleasant, joyful, well-rested children.

For us, sleep is just too important to skip.


Have you noticed this “evening activity for young children” thing, too? How do you handle it? Do you have any great tips for making kids nap?

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6 Responses to Aren’t 4 Year Olds Supposed to Have a Bedtime?

  1. Ruth P. says:

    It confounds me! I selected our Cub Scout pack solely on meeting time. We do swimming because lessons are Saturday morning. There are some sports options after school, but none are on Mondays or Fridays, which are the two days my husband could get him there! My boy definitely needs sleep more than sports. 🙂

    • Carrie says:

      Whew! Glad to know I’m not the only one! Hopefully we can also find activities for the boys that don’t disrupt our whole lives that way. 🙂

  2. rpcvmama27 says:

    I have to really laugh at your timing! I was just talking about this on Thursday…. my HR lady is 3 weeks from her due date with her second kid. She asked me why I hadn’t RSVP’d to the annual company Night at the Ballpark event. I told her that 7:30 was too late a start time for us, since it’s close to Brook’s bedtime (8ish). She then had the nerve to say to me, “I can’t imagine planning my life around my toddler’s schedule.” Which really made me speechless mad. I Eventually said that it would be better for everyone if an over tired cranky toddler wasn’t screaming and throwing stuff at the ballpark. Instead of realizing what I was saying (that it would be better for her and everyone else there, plus I wouldn’t be stressed having to fight it) she focused in on the last part and said “you LET her throw things?!” I was so pissed off, and said no I don’t let her, she’s a toddler and when she gets tired she gets overly upset. She then said “I’m not even going to get into this.” and walked away! Like I had started the conversation!! I can’t believe this behavior, since she has a 3 year old son as well. I’m sorry, but bedtime is sacred in our house. Even on vacation we’ve never put her to bed later than 9 because of how hard it is to get her to sleep when she’s overly tired. I really can’t fathom why anyone would want to put their toddler (or themselves) through that! Children need sleep, and unfortunately, we’ve reached a time in the generational divide that thinks their activities, and their desires are more important than the needs of their children. I am fortunately, not one of those people. Part of being a parent means making sacrifices. Sacrificing the one or two outings in the evening I will be invited to for the few short years my child will be too young to enjoy those events, is worth it to be a good parent who loves and respects my child’s needs.

    • Carrie says:

      Oh. My. Goodness. What a story! People like that just blow my mind. I’m sorry you had to deal with that!

      I’m really relived that I’m not alone in this one. Bedtime really is important!

      Hugs, and hope you can avoid that woman as much as possible in the future! 😉

  3. Maranda says:

    I’ve done the “kids at walmart in the middle of the night” thing before. But they were babies when I did. Once they hit the age where they sleep through the night, I don’t do that. I can’t imagine taking a toddler in that late just to wander the store. If you don’t have anyone to watch them and have to get groceries, I guess it is what it is.

    Ad far as bedtime goes, we try to get the boys to bed by 8 most nights. My 8 year old is an early to bed early to rise kind of kid. Some nights it just doesn’t work out and he’s cranky all day the next day. This is not good for him or his teacher because he has a bit of anxiety on top of adhd.

    • Carrie says:

      You know, I really don’t judge. People have to do what is necessary and I get that. The “kids at Walmart in the middle of the night” thing just always made me wonder…and with the prevalence of evening activities for young kids it REALLY made me wonder! LOL

      And you’re right; little babies sleep anywhere, any time. It’s the toddlers that makes you go “huh”?

      Good for your son being such a good sleeper! That’s excellent! Well, except for the days when he doesn’t get enough sleep…then, boo. Hugs, mama!

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