Ask the grumpies: Managing bedtime for an obsessive reader

zenmoo asks:

any ideas on how to manage an obsessive reader? My just 6 year old’s reading ability has exploded over our long holidays. This is great but she gets very caught up new stories to the extent of finding it hard to sleep… I was an obsessive reader at her age too (still am) but it never stopped me sleeping!!

Make sure that your 6 year old has a flashlight that doesn’t get too hot and that hir covers are the kind that won’t melt if say, they have a bare lightbulb touching them. Not that I ever accidentally melted a sleeping bag (much).

You can forbid reading after a certain hour and turn off the light, but one of the great joys of childhood is sneaking to finish a novel late into the night under the covers.  If it interferes with functioning the next day, eventually zie will learn how to regulate it, most of the time anyway.  So long as the next new book isn’t too enthralling.  Fortunately at 6, falling asleep in class is unlikely to result in damage to one’s permanent record.

You also may want to put bedtime a bit earlier so that when you head to bed you can check and remove any lit flashlights or open books from drooling children who have fallen asleep mid-chapter.

12 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Managing bedtime for an obsessive reader”

  1. crazy grad mama Says:

    Ha, my parents used to set an egg timer for 15 or 20 minutes of reading at bedtime. I would wait until it ticked down to close to zero, then reset it for another 15 minutes, two or three times. My theory was that if they didn’t hear the ding, they wouldn’t realize I was reading overtime.

  2. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    Agree that this is mostly a self-managing problem, even for a six year old.

    On the other hand, as someone who was once both a six year old who sometimes stayed up past her bedtime reading and a high schooler who was miserable much of the time because she couldn’t figure out how to get her homework done on time and get to bed (and so was exhausted all the time; mind you, I actually *liked* school, so that wasn’t the problem; a certain degree of perfectionism and the feeling that there were not enough hours in the day were), I’d suggest looking for other needs the extended bedtime reading may be meeting.

    In my case, I was a strong introvert who very much needed downtime when I was both awake and not expected to interact with other people (including an extroverted little brother; let’s just say that there was a good deal of mutual frustration-making there, due not only to standard-issue sibling rivalry but also to not particularly compatible temperaments; we do fine as adults, but we also have a lot more freedom to structure the parts of our lives that don’t involve interacting with each other). I managed pretty well with a 9-3 elementary school schedule and a fairly limited roster of afterschool activities, and in those years did most of my reading during the day (but sometimes also at night, but I’d only stay up if the book was *really* good). When I got to an 8:30-4:30 high school schedule (with some time for homework during the day), plus extracurriculars, the main thing that went missing was the downtime I needed before I was ready to concentrate on homework. There were (almost) enough hours in the day, but no “down” hours, and I often took them (often by reading) before starting homework, which led to very slow homework completion, and ate into sleeping.

    Of course the above may or may not apply to your child, but I suspect my pattern of staying up late reading to get some awake-but-alone/quiet time would have developed much earlier if I’d had the sort of schedule many children have today, including some sort of group aftercare situation and/or many extracurricular activities. It might be worth seeing if there’s any way to build in an hour or two of truly quiet time earlier in the day (even if that’s in the car while a sibling plays a sport, or in a corner in a group setting where the child explicitly has permission not to always participate in group activities), and whether that affects the need for extended bedtime reading.

    I don’t mean to make a mountain out of a molehill — reading under the covers is, indeed, a rite of passage, one of the early milestones of a child beginning to choose hir own schedule (and, yes, deal with the consequences of doing so, while the consequences are uncomfortable but minimal — a good thing). On the other hand, given the problems many adults have with unplugging from work in time to unwind and get the full night’s sleep we all truly need (though admittedly exact amounts required vary), I wonder whether a persistent habit of staying up late reading might be a (minor) distress signal that should be attended to — not by cutting off the reading, but, indeed, by, to the extent possible, making other adjustments in the family schedule so that it’s possible for the child to take a longer wind-down period at the end of the day (or at some other time during the day) and still get a full night’s sleep.

    • Contingent Cassandra Says:

      I think what caught my eye was both the age — 6 — and the word “obsessive.” 6 can be an age of major transitions in the length and/or intensity of the school day (though perhaps less so these days than when I was growing up; I had real problems with the 1/2 day kindergarten to full-day first grade transition, even though I loved school). Because reading is a valued/socially sanctioned activity, it tends to be encouraged and celebrated, which can make it a handy escape/coping mechanism for children who read well, but have more difficulty with the social/interaction demands of school (and family life). That doesn’t necessarily mean the child needs to be encouraged to read less, but it does mean that some attention to why the child is reading when and how she is reading might point to other parts of the situation that need attention — and not, I can attest from experience, the solution is not to suggest that the child “play with others more.” What I suspect might help is helping her name the need that the reading is supplying, and then find more intentional ways to build meeting that need into her day in ways that don’t interfere with other major priorities, as well as ways to help her — and the whole family — anticipate situations/periods of time which may prove especially difficult, and require a recovery period (e.g. coming home from an eventful everybody-together-all-the-time family vacation and going back to school the next morning might not be the best plan).

    • crazy grad mama Says:

      This is a really good point.

  3. chacha1 Says:

    I think Cassandra is right on the money. I still use reading as my downtime, I need a lot of it, and always have (introvert). At six, the child may not be equipped to articulate why the need for alone-bedtime-reading is so strong, but this is where an “elimination diet” of the household and school schedules’ demands on the child may be warranted.

  4. First Gen American Says:

    I definitely see the downtime thing…and have one super extrovert child and one introvert. When I pick up my kids at the community center where they go after school, it’s not uncommon for my introvert to be reading by himself amidst the crazy commotion around him as a way to tune out the chaos. Before he learned to read, he had his little spot behind the couch he would escape to when he needed quiet time.

    • Contingent Cassandra Says:

      My grandfather used to do that all the time — reading in the midst of the noise and chaos of family life. And I did it, too, as a child, but encountered more resistance (probably a result of both age and gender). It definitely would have been helpful to me to have a name for the need earlier, rather than the somewhat mixed messages (reading–good; not being sufficiently “social”–bad) I got. I also think I would have been more willing to concentrate on social interactions for brief periods in particular situations if I knew my need for downtime would be recognized, and met, at some other time.

  5. zenmoo Says:

    Those are interesting comments- especially about what need the reading might be filling. the kid is wildly extroverted (as in she loves noise & people & talking) but I can see that reading makes her feel good about herself because she feels very competent while reading and because she knows how much I love reading.

    Part of the issue is reading choice- she has been reading longer and more exciting/scary books (Famous Fives in particular) which she loves but tend to fire her brain up. Scaling back to books she can finish in an evening and that are less full of kidnapping and adventure helps her get to sleep a bit quicker.

    Mostly though, like many of her characteristics I’ve realised its just that she is like her Dad – a night owl who can keep going as long as he’s got something to do. thankfully it takes a lot of tired before either of them get grumpy. They make up sleep on weekend mornings by sleeping in.

  6. Rosa Says:

    on top of the generalized downtime, reading can be a way for people who aren’t particularly good at holding still to hold still so their body can relax. The earlier bedtime to make time for reading is really good advice, if you can do it.

    We had to make rules for what could be read at bedtime – nothing too cliff-hangery, nothing too scary – to make closing the book and going to sleep easier, too. I’m guilty of staying up too late reading when the plot doesn’t have a stopping point, too.

  7. zenmoo Says:

    Oh and our current solution to the lighting issue for reading is to leave the hallway light on outside her room which provides just enough light for reading


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