ADHD kid refuses to sleep

My girlfriend’s ten-year-old daughter has ADHD. For the past six months or so - since long before I came on the scene - Girlfriend has been having issues with Daughter going to bed and sleep. No matter how tired she might be, Daughter forces herself to stay awake as late as she can. It doesn’t happen every night, but just from my observations I’d say it’s more than half the time. There have been times, one of which I partially witnessed, that this has gone on as late as 3:00 in the morning.

Daughter kept turning on her light and reading or whatever, so Girlfriend took the light bulbs out of her room. Daughter kept coming out of her room, knowing full well she’d get in trouble, so Girlfriend swapped out the doorknobs with the bathroom, putting the lock on the outside of Daughter’s bedroom door. It’s the kind of pointless lock, though, that can be opened from the other side with a coin or something similar, as we found out last night. Several times.

Every time Girlfriend catches Daughter in the act, whether it’s the light shining under the door, or sneaking out of her room, or whatever, she has to yell at Daughter to knock it off, but it does no good. Threatening and punishing Daughter by grounding her or taking things away does no good. Daughter simply doesn’t care. She doesn’t think beyond the moment, so she doesn’t make the connection that her behavior causes her to lose things she likes. Girlfriend says Daughter does this for the attention, not caring if the attention she gets is good or bad. Girlfriend also realizes she’s reinforcing this behavior, and feels she went wrong somewhere. But she doesn’t know what else to do. She’s at her wits’ end.

Has anyone here been in a situation like this, and might be able to give some advice?

Not having any kids, I’ll give my suggestion before the experts show up.

Since the kid has a diagnosis, that probably means she’s seen a professional. Maybe this is worth another visit or two.

Is she taking any medication for her condition? Maybe the dosage or the particular drug could be adjusted.

Why don’t you just let her stay up, on the caveat that it doesn’t matter how late she stays up, she still has to maintain her schedule the next day? That is, no not going to school because she didn’t sleep or whatever.

I am no parent but I’ve heard this works some times. And even I know the number one rule of parenting is “pick your battles”. This seems like a power play, so rather than trying to win, try just not playing the game.

Good luck. :slight_smile:

When I was little, my pediatrician recommended that my parents have me get a lot more exercise before trying to put me to bed. My dad had me run laps, and that did seem to help. Even as an adult I find that pre-bedtime exercise helps me be “ready” to sleep, which is probably part of the child in question’s problem too. I think the routine, as much as the physical activity, helps your brain accept that it’s time to sleep and not let the impulse to get up and do X win most of the time…but you have to realize that it’s not a perfect system - I still get out of bed to write when the impulse is too strong to ignore.

Since it’s March, and running laps is sort of out of the question in big parts of the country (not to mention that a kid of 10 is more likely to protest than I did at age 5) your girlfriend might consider some fitness oriented video games if they already own a game console. You know, Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution etc. Those are fun and likely to tire the kid out. Or perhaps an exercise DVD aimed at kids if a game is out of the question. If she’s allowed to help pick whatever your GF decides on out, it’d probaby be more successful.

This sounds like it has a lot less to do with ADHD than with a long history of no discipline whatsoever. In which case, no short paragraphs of advice posted on a message board will help. My advice to you, however, is to run. Run hard, and run fast. Run!

Why? It doesn’t seem like there is enough info in the OP to know either way.

Difficulty going to sleep is a common problem for ADHD kids. She should ask whoever diagnosed her child for specific advice. They should have some resources on hand for issues like this.

Likewise, I would probably ignore advice from parents with non-ADHD kids because it may not apply or it may even be counter-productive.

I am a parent and this sounds perfectly reasonable. If all the kid is doing is laying in bed and reading then so what? I can see if your girlfriend wanted to have some alone time and the kid kept getting up and coming in the room, but if she’s not then let it be. I would certainly keep reminding kiddo that she’s going to be tired tomorrow, and that there’s no staying home from school. Other than that, yeah, what 'Mika said.

Well, I do have a kid, but I don’t think his sleep issues at 6 months old are really relevant.

That said, I know of one thing that worked (sometimes) for kids I used to sit for. I’d give them a choice: they could go to bed, or they could stay up and help me do chores - wash dishes, fold laundry, pick up toys, etc. If they chose “chores” - it did happen - I was all business. We didn’t chat or sing songs or have the TV or radio on. Generally, after about 10 minutes, it was, “Can I go to bed now?” And if they chose bed, I tried to make it easy on them, by doing chores myself, or homework, or just reading quietly. That way, they didn’t feel like they were missing out on fun.

I’ve always had trouble going to sleep myself - still do. I think that part of it is that I’ve always had unpleasant dreams and nightmares, and so I’ve dreaded falling asleep. Even now, I sometimes put myself to sleep by mentally running through all my recurring dream scenarios, and thinking, “Won’t dream about that, won’t dream about that either…” Then I conjure up a peaceful image, like relaxing in a hammock on a summer afternoon, and imagine myself doing that, rather than lying in bed in the dark. Sometimes it works.

Another problem - and if she’s got ADHD, this could be her issue - is that when I lie there in the dark, my mind is so busy that I can’t sleep. For me, the only thing that helps when that happens is to fall asleep watching TV or listening to the radio. It keeps my brain sufficiently occupied that my thoughts “turn off” and I eventually drift off. (This also helps get me over the hump of dreading the forthcoming dreams.) Girlfriend might try getting some kids’ books on CD that her daughter likes, and playing them on loop.

Is the kid on something like Ritalin or Adderal for the ADHD? Make sure she is taking it very first thing in the morning. Also, she needs to think about giving her a “med break” on the weekend as long as the doc is on board. See if there is a difference.

Finally - I’m not trying to get into “ragging on your girlfriend” territory here, but some of those measures really made me thing WTF???

I have a 9 year old. Sometimes he stays up half the night. My only rules are that you better be ready when I get you out of bed the next morning and don’t disturb the house. Why does the mom care if she sits up reading?

Maybe it’s less about actual need for sleep, and more about control. And really - removing the light bulbs and moving the lock to the outside of the door? That’s really fucked up to do to a kid just because you aren’t winning a power struggle.

Now, if she’s sneaking out and setting fires I’ll eat my words.

Sounds like the 10 year old is interfering with yours and mommy’s “me” time. Too bad that lock thing didn’t work out. Hope you two didn’t get caught in any comprising positions.

The removing of the light bulbs and putting the bathroom handle on the door makes the mom sound as childish as the kid.

I would suggest that you let the kid stay up, but that she has to be in bed. She can read books etc. but has to stay in bed, so that when she does get sleepy, that’s where she is. Don’t make a big deal out it. If she wants to stay up reading or whatever in her room, let her.

I would guess that the symptoms of this has more to do with you as the new boyfriend spending time over at their house, when it used to be just her and mommy.

Your girlfriend needs to decide what’s really important to her. I suspect it’s that she (the girlfriend) have some Alone Time or Adult Time after her kid goes to bed.

Fact of the matter is, you can’t make another person sleep, short of using drugs or a blow to the head. Trying to control a child’s sleep is even more of a losing proposition than trying to control her eating or her pooping. These are the three things a child’s own body has complete control over: what goes in, when it comes out and when she’s asleep.

Have you ever had insomnia? I bet the kid is just as frustrated as her mother, only now it’s become a Mommy is Mean power struggle on top of it.

She should sit her down and explain what it is she (Mom) really needs. “After 8:30, I need time to myself to calm down and unwind. I love you so much, but I need adult time, too. I need about 10 hours of adult time every day, so I’ll be ready to see you again at 6:30 in the morning. You can play music quietly, or read, or color, or whatever you like in your room that’s quiet enough that it doesn’t disturb my adult time. Or, if you want, you can sleep. But Mom’s off duty from 8:30 until 6:30, unless it’s an emergency.” Discuss what “emergency” really means. At our house, it means someone or something was broken and you can’t fix it yourself, or you see or smell a fire.

And then she needs to be okay with that. Is the girl going to test her? Absolutely. And Mom has to do her best to utterly ignore her until 6:30. The best way to do this for the first few nights is probably to make herself scarce in her own bedroom. Is the girl going to try to stay up all night? Absolutely, maybe even several nights in a row. Does she get out of school as a result of being overtired? Hell, no. Does mom drive her when she’s late? Hell, no. She made her choice, she can deal with the consequences.

Mom can (and should) say, with genuine sympathy, “Oh, man, you look tired. I know sometimes I stay up later than I should, and then I feel awful all day at work. Well, try to have the best day you can, considering the circumstances.”

I agree, this seems a clear cut case of control. Seems your girlfriend is *reacting *to the daughter and not solving the problem by seeking professional advice. When you take out light bulbs and lock the door from the outside, it says you do not know how to control or even understand the situation. Find out why, find the root of what is really going on, and enact several things that will help the child, not punish her for something that may not be in her control.

If mom and daughter are having control battles now, wait until she is 13-16 and has a boyfriend…my point is, work with the daughter, don’t punish out of not understanding the problem.

This is totally a power struggle. The kid is winning.

Since she is behaving like a brat (ADHD or not, when your mom tells you to stay in your room, you do), I would treat her a little younger than her physical age.

She probably really can’t sleep and while they should work on that (with a doctor or not), they also need to work on the fact that the mom’s discipline isn’t working. The attention the child is craving, she is getting (in spades, it sounds like).

Two things worked for us when we had this problem:

  1. If they get out of bed, put them back with little (or no) talking and no contact. Just sort of guide them there.
  2. The next day, when they want you to do something, play like you are too tired from being kept up all night by them.

That way they do not get the attention that they are trying for (in fact, they get less) and over time, it should diminish.

Now, if you want to allow her to read, that should be okay. At least her body is getting some rest then.

Daughter is on medication, and she sees a therapist every week. I know this issue has been addressed with the therapist, but other than that I don’t know enough to comment here.

As for the lights and the door lock, these are the most recent things Girlfriend has tried, after exhausting every other possibility she could think of.

Like I said in the OP, this has been going on for six months, and I haven’t been on the scene nearly that long. In fact, it’s only been in the last few weeks that Daughter has been aware that I’m there after she goes to bed.

I wasn’t bringing up medication because I thought she needed it - I was thinking she may need a weekend break from it. The medications for ADHD (not all, but the ones we hear about most like Adderall or Ritalin) are going to keep her up if she isn’t taking it early enough in the day. Like I said, definitely talk to the doc before just stopping for a day or so (she would obviously need to go back on them for Monday morning school) but surely bring it up with the doc. I have a friend that gives her kid a medicine vacation every weekend so the kid can get some good rest and keep an appetite. She just has to grit her teeth for a couple days during it. :slight_smile:

My suggestions for the “meantime” is that girlfriend sits daughter down and says “I’m tired of the struggle every night. Bulbs are going back in, the door won’t be locked. But 10:00 is bedtime so you need to be in your room. Sit up all night if you want, but we get up at 6:00, no exceptions for sleepiness. Love you, good night.” And when daughter gets up, because she will, girlfriend needs to mentally take a step back, don’t take it personally, and say “I thought we agreed on this. Back to your room.” And she will probably have to repeat this a million times. The daughter is probably used to it escalating into a shouting match or growling (that’s not a dig at your girlfriend, I do it too sometimes when my kids work my last nerve) so will push the buttons to see how long it will take to get there. It’ll probably take a few nights for daughter to get it through her head that this is how it is.

ETA - whenever I do something like this with my kids I make them shake on it so it’s not my mandate, it’s an agreement that we both have to uphold. Maybe see if that helps?

I had trouble falling alseep when I was a kid. As other suggested mum finally settled with, I had to physically be in bed at 9pm. If I wanted to read or write or sit there and stare into space, fine but I had to be in the bed at 9pm. Eventually I settled into reading and falling asleep as I did it.

I still sort of do this today.

And as others said, I HAD to get up at 6:30am regardless of what time I went to sleep.

Does the therapist know about the bulbs and knobs/locks? Were those done on the suggestion of the therapist?

If the therapist doesn’t know, I assume she’ll find out today. In fact, I believe Girlfriend and Daughter are there at this moment. But no, these were not done on the therapist’s suggestion.

As a lifetime insomniac with ADHD, I think your girlfriend needs to know that she cannot MAKE her daughter go to sleep. She can certainly make her turn the light out and be quiet, but if the daughter is like me, she will learn to quietly be very naughty in the dark. When my parents insisted I turn out the lights, I waited for them to go to sleep and then climbed out the window to go play. At 3:00am.

As others have said, this is not the best battle to pick.

I have done some work with autistic kids. First don’t fight them, right now you are just escalating the battle, which is causing and furthering the conflict. If your g/f pushes so hard to force them to comply you (she) has actually lost the battle.

Second is to try different things during the day with them. A great example get them involved in nature, take them for a hike, let them explore (don’t restrict what they can do unless it is truly a danger). I have seen kids turn around, not even appearing a least bit autistic. Kids who have symptoms that make it difficult for them to interact with others can usually interact with a natural setting in my experience.

Most important, that child really has to be fully accepted as a loved part of the relationship and certainly not a hindrance, especially during those times.

Good Luck