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12 year old daughter won't go to bed at night, get up in the morning, always late for school

Dear Dr. Laura,

My12 year old daughter always stays up late (usually around MIDNIGHT) even though from 9:30 pm I repeatedly tell her to the point of exhaustion- "It's time for you to go to bed". In the morning she ignores my pleas to get up in the morning and my voice and frustration escalates to the point of angrily screaming at her. She seems to not care if she gets to school late. And she is consistently late arriving to school, although she loves school and is top in her class. I have even resorted to throwing her coat and shoes out the door onto the grass. I was widowed when she was born and am 54 years old and I have come to hate my role as single middle-aged working parent. I resent her so much so that I want to send her to boot camp - because she does not listen, nor respect me. I just do not know how to get through to this child.

Evelyn

Dear Evelyn,

 The best way to get children (including tweens and teens) to do what we want is to stay connected to them.

I would add that clearly your daughter needs more sleep. Going to bed at midnight is much too late for a twelve year old. They need at least 9 and a half hours sleep a night. That means if she has to get up at 7am for school, she needs to be asleep -- lights off and asleep! -- at 9:30pm. No wonder she won't get up, even if she likes school. So your goal is not so much to get her up in time for school -- that is a natural result of enough sleep. Your goal is to get her to bed at a healthy hour.

Is this possible? Yes. In fact, I happen to have a 13 year old girl who follows this schedule. Does it take constant reinforcement from me to get her to bed? I'm afraid so. Is it worth it? Completely. She gets up in the morning cheerful and without fuss, often before I go in to awaken her.

How can you engineer this?

1. You're the adult. You set the limits in your house. She's allowed to have negative feelings about the limits you set, but she still has to obey them. Bedtime is bedtime. No matter how tired you are, you are still responsible for her well-being, and that includes her bedtime. We wouldn't let toddlers make all their own decisions, and twelve year olds aren't ready to do so either.

2. When you lay down the law about the new schedule, give her some choices: Does she want her shower or bath at night or in the morning? (Night is better to relax her, but morning will wake her up.) Does she want a half hour in bed before lights out to read and relax, or just fifteen minutes? (Without this time, she's likely to be tossing and turning after lights out.) Does she want lights out at 9:15 or 9:30pm? (Duh.) She won't like the new routine, but if she has some choice in creating it, she won't be so resistant.

3. Type up the new schedule. Post it. Stick to it. Her job will be to test the limits. Your job will be to stay cheerful as you enforce the new routine.

4. Curtail screen time in the evening. Her body will naturally start to make melatonin at dark, which makes us sleepy. But the blue light of the computer and TV prevent the body from making melatonin. They're like a shot of caffeine. If she needs to keep up with certain TV shows, tape them for the weekend.

5. Take the computer and TV out of her room, if they're there. I know plenty of kids who are chatting with friends online or watching TV once parents go to sleep.

6. If she has a hard time falling asleep, try giving her melatonin in the evening for a couple of weeks. Available at your health food store in mint or orange, start with one milligram. I don't recommend it as a permanent sleep aid, just for a short time while adjusting to a new schedule. She'll also fall asleep more easily if you lie down with her at bedtime for a few nights. You'll probably fall asleep and lose your evening, but you'll get a good night's sleep and be up early to take care of anything left unfinished the night before. Major bonus: cuddling will improve your relationship dramatically.

7. Don't let her sleep in on weekends. It will throw off her schedule completely.

8. Make sure she has no coffee in her diet.

9. Your daughter loves school and is at the top of her class. Congratulations! What a blessing! Use that to your advantage by explaining to her that studies show kids lose an IQ point for every hour of sleep they get less than 9 and a half hours. (Just for that day.) Their test results clearly show how much sleep they've had. Wouldn't she like 100% perfect scores on every single test, quiz and paper?

So that's my specific advice, but the most important thing I can say is that you are at a crossroads with your daughter. If you want to drive her away from you, into the arms of some teenage boy and possibly drug use, keep on resenting her. However, if you want to use this situation to repair your broken relationship with your daughter and become close for the rest of your lives, here's your opportunity.

I hear that you are a single mom and exhausted from the effort. I hear you work all day and then come home at night to find a child you feel you can't get through to, who doesn't listen to you or respect you. Any mom would want to send her child to boot camp and would resent all the effort she has to expend on her child's account.

But I don't think that you really want to drive your daughter away, or you wouldn't have written to me. I think you actually want to bring her closer, to connect with her, to have her appreciate and respect you. And I think it's possible for you to recreate your relationship with your daughter into one of mutual respect and appreciation.

How? You might want to start by spending some time on this website. I particularly recommend these articles:

You CAN Have a Terrific Relationship with Your Tween Daughter

Building a Great Relationship with Your Child

I also recommend the entire section on Positive Discipline techniques that work with teens and tweens, because no mother should put up with disrespect from her child. This section has lots of info on how to enforce limits in a way that creates mutual respect.

Finally, you might want to check out the section on Communication, which I think will be invaluable in finding ways to talk so your daughter listens, and listen so she talks.

You can't control your daughter, you can only control yourself. But I see over and over with parents that when we are willing to make the effort to change, our kids change too.

I wish you and your daughter every blessing.

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Olivia commented on 10-Nov-2011 04:56 PM
I agree with all of what you have said, but my daughter will go to bed when she is told but will scream the house down. I have four other children of which are 2,3,9,12 and she is 8. I need something that will give her inspiration to get up in the morning
and get her into bed. She is the same as the 13yr old. I need something to get through to her, she doesn't care about being late, or loosing privileges, to her she doesn't care. I have tried everything. Please help!
Anonymous commented on 11-Feb-2012 12:58 PM
you have to remain calm ,and not show her signs that you are finding this hard too. Instead try to motivate her that if she gets enough sleep and rest she will excel in school and acheive her very best. hope this helped!
nelly commented on 11-Feb-2012 04:48 PM
I have 4 children ages 16,14,12 and 10 years old. My older 2 go to bed at 9:00 during the week and 9:30 on week ends. My younger 2 go to bed at 8:30 during the week and on week ends go to bed at 9:00
a person commented on 12-Mar-2012 12:49 AM
I don't think u should send that girl to boot camp -- that's mean :'(
Anonymous commented on 07-May-2012 10:11 PM
I am myself a teenager( I'll be 15 next month) And coming from a teen, We honestly feel like we know everything even though we don't. At 12 she thinks she is almost the age of were she can do what ever she wants. She is excited at that fact and know she
is going to be a teen in the next year that she feels as if its just about time for her to leave the tween ages behind.. Get ready because the next few years will not be easy, she will want to stay up later not wanna go to school and start back talking don't
say you gotta perfect child because even the best of us have sassiness and rebelness in us.. So the best way I can think of is to start talking to her and become a friend and get her to open up to you ( stay firm to your mother instincts so you dont act too
much like a friend) after awhile she might feel as if she owes it to you to go to bed because you have been so nice to her. dont know her and i dont know if that will work but best of luck!

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