A reader recently wrote asking help with getting children out of bed in the morning… here’s how to do it! 

You begin by asking about a child who won’t wake in the morning and I suspect that is because he gets too bed too late.  I imagine that is because, no matter how early you begin a bed-time routine, he is resistant every step of the way and so getting him into bed at any reasonable time is a nightmare.

The problem with using bribery and punishment as strategies is that it often works initially but eventually places us in a position where we are “negotiating with terrorists”.  The more we use “if you/then I” (If you do this good/bad thing, then I’ll do this good/bad thing) the more our children learn to stubbornly resist and not care about the consequences.  They get far more satisfaction out of their resistance than they get distress or encouragement out of our consequence.

I recommend that you change to a “When you/then you” approach.  (When you have done as asked, then you are welcome to all the Goods and Services this family has to offer.  Sub-text (unspoken) is “If you don’t want to do as asked, then can live in your room till you do”. ).

With every request you make, think ASK- TELL – ACT.

–        ASK him once to do something. Either he does it or, having waited for 5 seconds…

–        TELL him powerfully – Go right over to him, stand tall, look at him and, in a quiet, determined voice, TELL him what you expect.  Either he does it or, having waited for 5 seconds…

–        ACT – Scoop him into his room.  Tell him to call out when he is ready to do as told.  Walk out and shut the door.  Leave him there till he is ready to do as requested.

getting children out of bed

The difference between this method and punishment, consequence or bribery is that you don’t have to do any of the work.  It is his job to work out how to overcome his own resistance and decide to do as he is told.  Till he works it out, he needs to be in his room.

When he won’t get out of the shower, scoop him into his room and close the door, making sure he has his pyjamas/clothing in there.  He can come out when he is dressed – or when he is ready to let you dress him.

When he won’t say “Hello” or “Goodnight”, scoop him into his room or walk away of you are already there.  He can call out when he has found his politer voice – and you will come.

In the morning, if he doesn’t want to co-operate, walk out of his room and shut the door.  Go and do whatever you need to do to get yourself ready.  It is amazing how much children don’t like a quiet household.  When it is time to go, scoop him into the car (still in his pyjamas) without a word and hand him a sandwich to eat on the way.

If you can make sure the first three requests of the morning go your way, the rest of the day will be a lot more pleasant.  It you can make sure that the first three requests of your bed-time routine go your way, you will have a child who is pleased to have you tuck him in and kiss him goodnight.

Once he has got the idea that you say what you men and you mean what you say, that you expect compliance and will not use persuasion or bribery, that you have the patience to wait it out till he decides to do the right thing, you will be amazed what a pleasant child he will become and how much you will be freed up to enjoy his company.

Good luck!


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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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