Bribing Our Way to Sleep


Bedtime issues continue to deteriorate in our house. My five-year-old son resists settling down at night. After we tuck him in around 8:30, there is usually a good hour or two of him exiting his room, and us promptly sending him back. He will use any excuse he can think of:

  • I need a Band-Aid
  • I was just checking on you guys.
  • My tummy rumbled.
  • I need a cuddle.
  • There are creepy things in my room.
  • I had a bad dream. (Even if he hasn’t fallen asleep yet!)
  • My bend (elbow) hurts
  • I saw a bug.
  • I thought I saw a bug.
  • I saw a scary bug in my big book of bugs.

Depending on the night, this results in a combination of the following:

  • Calmly leading him back to his room.
  • Yelling at him to get back into bed already.
  • Lecturing him on the importance of sleep.
  • Trying nighttime yoga (you can read about that HERE)
  • Giving him more hugs.
  • Making empty threats to take away toys tomorrow.
  • Letting him sleep on the sofa … or in our bed… or on the floor.
  • Staying with him until he falls asleep.

Several weeks ago, I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I developed a brilliant plan involving bribery and visual aids. We had previously tried to reward him for staying in his room with candy or dollar store toys. This was met with little to no success. This time my husband and I knew we needed to go big. Cue the lobster.

Yes, we actually bribed our five-year-old son with a lobster dinner. If he remained in his room after bedtime for five nights in a row, he would get a lobster to eat. My kid who won’t eat hotdogs or pizza loves lobster. Go figure.lobsterchart

The best part of my plan?  IT WORKED! And, I got to eat lobster. Seriously, could there be a better plan? Well, as it turns out, probably.

We continued with ridiculous bribes for four more weeks. Each week, I made a chart and added an extra night or two to the number of nights he was required to stay in his room. We eventually reached ten nights in a row without a bribe. He loved the charts and felt a sense of accomplishment when he colored and then crossed off the image each morning; I loved that I did not have to hear his door open and shut every fifteen minutes each evening.

However, after five weeks, I came to the realization that this couldn’t go on forever. We were shelling out some serious cash every week or so, just so I could drink a glass of wine and binge watch House of Cards without interruption.  I reluctantly stopped making my charts, stopped dangling the carrot in front of his nose, and I expected the worst.

During the first bribe-free night, I sat on the edge of the sofa just waiting to hear the creak of his door. Amazingly, it never came. Or the next night, or the night after that. Miraculously, for three weeks, he has remained in his room after bedtime.

Now, things aren’t perfect. Some nights, especially when he is particularly restless, he will simply stand in his doorway and yell, “MOM!” over and over again. He will also occasionally come out for an “emergency” that is definitely NOT an emergency. For instance, last night he came out to tell me that he learned how to snap his fingers. Awesome … but not an emergency!

However, as I sit basking in my cleverness, I am also starting to realize that I seem to have created a new problem. My son may stay in his room now, but he stays in there awake for HOURS. I will go to bed around 10:30 some nights, and he is still up!

Sometimes I hear him playing with his dinosaurs or using his Leap Reader, and I will go in and try to settle him down. However, most nights, he remains in his room quietly and diligently copying words out of his dinosaur encyclopedia. With only the dim glow of a small lamp, he hunches over his nightstand and slowly writes the names of meat-eater after meat-eater.  He is like some sort of medieval monk carefully copying an ancient manuscript by candlelight. He just needs a brown robe to replace his Jake and the Neverland Pirate pajamas.

DinolistIt’s hard to reprimand him when I am kind of in awe of what he has accomplished. Writing has not been an easy process for us (read about our Valentine’s Day letter writing drama HERE), so it is wonderful to see him take initiative. He is a slow writer and he can’t read yet, so these lists take time. It is somewhat baffling to me that he has the patience to painstakingly copy all of these words.

I’m not quite sure what to think of this new development. He is definitely not getting the recommended sleep for his age, but there doesn’t appear to be any negative effects.  In fact, there is an actual positive effect – his handwriting is much improved.

I also can’t help but smile at this situation because I distinctly remember myself as a child doing the same. Well past bedtime, I would hide under my covers with a dim flashlight and continue writing in my journal.  I remember feeling that it was imperative that I keep writing or the words might escape into the night. Perhaps my son feels the same.


What is bedtime like at your house? Any clever tricks to get your resistant ones to sleep?


13 thoughts on “Bribing Our Way to Sleep

  1. I love that your little guy calls his elbow his “bend.” I don’t know if this is any consolation, but I’ve been fighting insomnia with my 12-year-old for a couple years now. We’ve tried everything. She doesn’t get anywhere near the “recommended” amount of sleep for her age, either, which is some insane number like 12 hours a night. As if. Nonetheless, she is a straight-A student who takes 5 dance classes a week and just took up track to fill up her nonexistent free time. I guess my point is that we moms fight our battles as skillfully and creatively as we can while we understand that “best” and “recommended” and “ideal” are probably not the same as “what happens in real life.” 😉


    • Thanks. Yes, I’m starting to think he’s just a night owl. We are done with preschool for the year, so I’m going to push it back a little. As long as he stays in his room, so I get a bit of kid-free time I’ll be happy! Thanks for reading. Oh, and I hope he turns out as successful as your daughter! 🙂


  2. Another child who is motivated by lobster! I love it! Wow – fantastic job! I hesitate to say that bedtime hasn’t been a big struggle for us, but lately it has started to be a bit challenging. I’m going to implement your idea and nip it in the bud!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Recommended hours of sleep are just that… recommendations. If he isn’t having any negative side effects then he is doing just fine. Every child is different and you get to be judge of what works in your house. I have one kid who needs much more sleep than her brother does to function and she has always slept better than he does. They are just different and I tweek routines to work best for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I guess that it’s true–what’s right for one kiddo isn’t always right for another! This is such a creative solution to an everyday problem–especially since your son loves lobster so much! I haven’t come across your blog before but really enjoyed this post. Heading over to do some following now!


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