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bedtime routines for the unfailingly energetic

We have a typical bedtime routine: after dinner, I let the boys play together for a while (winter: inside; summer: outside) and then, after a few regular warnings, I issue snacks, order potty trips, and start in on the books. Truman and Monroe get four books, together; if Everett's still awake by that time, he gets his own book. An hour from start to finish.

That's with melatonin, a gentle sleep aid recommended by my pediatrician. Without the melatonin, which Everett sometimes resists (he's worried it makes nighttime accidents more likely) and Monroe sometimes is unaffected by, it's a couple of hours with Everett (seven and a half) and Monroe (two and a half) literally bouncing off the walls, floors, bunkbed, tackling each other, playing cannonball with the stuffed animals, jumping rope, hanging upside down from the top bunk, throwing paper airplanes at me and giving me "two for flinching!" Meanwhile, Truman (four and a half) variously cries, giggles, joins in, or falls asleep in understandable self-defense. Splitting them up for bedtime doesn't work; all the rooms available for sleeping are too close together and none of them have properly securable doors.

Ideally, I won't have to give Everett and Monroe melatonin until they're 18 and bedtimes are no longer my responsibility; I'll somehow teach them to develop calming methods of their own. All my considerable efforts to do so thus far have been in vain, and I've tried yoga, early evening exercise, baths (much objection, anyway, to frequent bathing), bedtime milk, completely foregoing sugar, sleepy time tea (which helped, once, at 11 p.m.), breathing exercises, poetry, prayer. Once they're wound up, my efforts often end up being completely ignored, anyway, CANNONBALL! 

Ideas? Has anyone developed a surefire way to calm a couple of children who, by every indication, are developmentally delayed in self-calming? I'd love to hear any thoughts.


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Get them up early in the morning. Every day, including weekends. Then don't start the routine until a half hour before you think they'll fall asleep. Otherwise, they're lying around bored and of course the get active and that keeps them up. I guess that's about scheduling, not about self-calming.

For self-calming, I bet your older boy knows lots of quiet things he likes to do--reading or looking at books, coloring, daydreaming. The trick (for us as parents) is to reward our kids for quiet behavior at bedtime instead of getting stuck responding to noisy or rambunctious behavior. So we run through our bedtime routine, give hugs and kisses, and then say "I'll come check on you if you're quiet." And then, at first, you may want to hover outside the door, just out of sight. Seize a moment when all is quiet, and come back in for another hug and a kiss. I know this seems like you're interrupting the kids just as they're settling down, but for us, it really, really worked, and you're rewarding behavior you want without having to punish or actively discourage the other behavior (which is your case is not wrong behavior, just at the wrong time--something that's also good to talk about).

haha! 3 boys here and boy do i know what you're talking about. i refuse to put up with it though as i'm home with them all day and i need my time at night.
my 5 year old gets frustrated/can't sleep when the 2.5yo is making too much noise and the little guy won't settle down if others are in the room, but we're in the process of getting another room set up for the older 2 boys.
a couple things that work: playing a board game together keeps them focused and is good for quieting them down before bed. or i give them 2 or 3 options of what they can do if there's free play time before bed such as coloring, playing store, something focused and not the crazy free for all they get after school. if i'm really frazzled i'll let them (the 5 and 6yo) watch a movie before bed, something calming, no action movies, rarely on a school night though, and we've started a reward chart for getting ready for school and bed on time, etc...
i'll admit, sometimes i resort to threats (lose a priviledge) or bribery (do something special the next day) when they won't cooperate. doesn't happen often, but once in awhile they need to be reminded of consequences.
the problem here really is that papa gets home late alot, about an hour or two before bed and that's what gets them wound up---wanting to spend time with him. if it's me by myself all evening, there's rarely a moan. getting up early for school helps with that, they are tired.
and lastly, if the 3 are too wound up to go to sleep in their room together, i'll put the older two to bed in our bed and move them when all are asleep, but that will stop when they have their own room.

Our boys (2 and 5) are very tired by the end of the day--lots of fresh air and very little TV or screen time, and a 2 year old who refuses to nap. I find that the ideal bedtime for them is about 7PM, but that rarely happens. My boys always do better with more sleep (sleep begets sleep) rather than less and I find that there is a "window" in the evening where if we jump on it and get them to bed within that window everything goes smoothly. If we miss that window and they get to bed later than 7:15-7:30 we can be in for a much harder battle. I'll second what Shannon said about Papa coming home and the boys getting excited. My husband accepted a new job this year and his work hours have increased dramatically--our family (evening!) harmony has definitely paid a price! On the nights when Papa is traveling or working late, I always shoot for an early dinner (5:30-6ish) and start the bedtime routine by 6:30, and usually the boys are in bed and asleep by 7 with very little fuss. But on a normal night we hope Papa's home by 6:30 (he usually walks in while we're already eating dinner and sits down to join us) and then the goal is to start bedtime by 7:30 with boys finally sleeping by 8-8:15.

It's funny, it doesn't generally matter what time my boys go to bed, they always wake up at about 7AM. If we put them to bed at 7, they wake up at 6:30-7AM. If we put them to bed at 8 or 9, they wake up at 7--never later! So we try to put them to bed as close to 7 as possible, knowing there's not a chance in he** they will ever sleep in.

As far as actual routine, ours is pretty simple--pajamas and brushing teeth, followed by 3 books of their choice in the bottom bunk. Then big brother climbs up to the top bunk, lights out and we sing 3 songs and we're done. We've had lots of ups and downs this year--the boys now share a room and that has at times made it difficult--we've tried separate bed times, splitting them up, etc and I think maybe we're finally finding our groove...

Try .3 mcg ( 1/3 of a mg) of melatonin in the early afternoon. At that dose it shouldn't make them sleepy however it will act as a cue to advance their body clocks for an earlier dusk.

We have had some success with using a candle. We light it when the routine begins, and dim the lights, and we let our son blow it out which is a good marker of the end. Candlelight seems to set a tone, and it can be blown out/taken away if there is misbehavior. I try to speak less and quieter, until I am hardly speaking at all in the final moments. And, I do not spend more than a half hour on the whole thing, I think they lose focus and get ramped back up if it goes much beyond a half hour. We also use a lavender oil burner thing from the oil shop on Hawthorne St. We also have a rule that once you are in bed, you stay in bed, and we will come to you 3 times, total that is it. If it goes beyond that, things start getting taken away; door gets shut, night light goes off, toys get taken away, plans get broken for tomorrow. I also discuss what helps me relax, breathing, thinking of something calming, closing my eyes. Then I run run away and hope for a break.

I feel for you. I find those crazy bedtimes incredibly frustrating, primarily because it's my quiet time after they're down! Here's what seems to work pretty well for us. After dinner it's clean-up all the toys time. We don't play after dinner at all typically. Then bath, snack, teeth and books. (I hear you about the daily bath, I just know for us it is part of the calming process. They will lie in the warm water playing for up to 20 minutes sometimes, and I think it really helps them settle. It also gives me a chance to clean up the kitchen after dinner as they don't need me right there with them.) We typically read books in bed. Each child gets to choose one (I have two), and sometimes I'll add a chapter book or a third into the mix. Then it's both boys in their beds (bunk beds, same room) and I'll turn on music or a story. They have little lights by their bed if they want to look at books for a bit. Then they turn it off on their own. When all the stars and planets are in alignment, they drift off gently to sleep.

When this goes south, we have a few ways of handling it, some more graceful than others! I find the biggest obstacle is when one wants to sleep and the other doesn't. So, if one is too loud and bothersome, he is offered the chance to come read books on the couch or in our room. This is a totally acceptable option, no one's in trouble if they choose it. If he doesn't choose this and continues to get in trouble, he sits in time-out until good and tired ("being in your bunkbed is a privilege and if you are going to keep your brother awake, you lose that privilege"). I've also been known to take toys at this point, including their babies that they take to bed. "Baby will be in time-out if you keep keeping your brother awake" often works really well. Especially when they know baby will come back if they can be quiet. This gives the other at least a fighting chance to fall asleep.

We used to sit in the bedroom for a long time with them until they were good and tired. I would read aloud or sing "if they were quiet," or lie down with one or the other. We've also had one automatically start in our room so they were seperated and then we would move him later. I used to get kind of frustrated about having to stay in their room, but then I realized I could spend 15 minutes in there reading or I could spend that and more coming in repeatedly and threatening them. Same effort and energy, one was just more enjoyable.

Also, our house is REALLY small. If one person is awake, everyone's awake! So, we keep the rest of the house quiet and dark until they're asleep. It definitely helps to give the message that everyone is quieting down now. We had a huge fit last night over one not liking the story that was on. he had the chance to go to the couch, but my husband and I had all the lights off and were watching tv in our bedroom. He started complaining about there being no light to read! I said "you have a light in your room. If you want the couch, it's dark tonight." Little guy was back in bed within 2 minutes and out like a light!

I agree with some of the other suggestions, particularly around making sure they're good and tired at the end of the day. My 3 year old doesn't nap, so he's usually really ready for bed when it rolls around. If he does nap, all bets are off and he'll be awake until 10, keeping the older one awake with him. Maybe your 2 little ones need to lose the nap? It's my oldest that has the most trouble falling asleep, and is the silliest in bed. We've been talking about letting him have a "later bedtime," but aren't quite ready to make the leap. Would that help you, to have Everett have a quiet activity so at least you could just focus on the two little ones? My oldest loves audiobooks and would happily listen to my ipod or a CD for an extra 15 minutes if he knew he could. Good luck to you!

I used to work in a home-style foster home for 6 wild and crazy boys between the ages of 6 and 16, with most of them 8 or 9. Of course, there is a very different dynamic when you're not actually the parent, but these kids knew how to push buttons, and weren't too picky about whose they pushed.

The key to bedtime was definitely divide and conquer. We turned the lights down in the house after chores, put on some mellow music, and everyone spent some time in his own room, and every kid received some one on one time every night, whether reading, playing leggos,telling a story, or just chatting about the day. If two boys shared a room, one would do "room time" in the living room. Bedtime was a looong process, some kids were helped to settle in with calming herbs, but when we could stick to the routine, we made it through.

So yes, I would go with the suggestions to split em up... could someone stay in the living room till everyone else is done, making it harder to draw him into the drama?

Sounds exhausting, and makes me appreciate that even when my one 3 year old is having a long night, she doesn't have anyone to egg her on. Though that will change in a few short months..... egads. Best of luck and lots of sleep to you!

YES to early bedtimes, we do 7 (6.30 sometimes) for most of year except those long summer days...
I'm trying to be 100% (110% if possible) present and focused on bedtime from dinner until they are asleep. This means that even if my husband and I are tag-teaming bedtime, that we really carry the moment towards sleep. Drip with sleepy energy, exude sleep vibes. Speak calm, slow, and don't get wound up when trying to reign them in (tough!) This also means not getting distracted by dishes or internet or anything. I find if I leave them to "play" while I do my own thing then it all falls apart at that time of evening. I'm trying to stay with them at all times and get myself ready for bed and just hope they follow. For now we split and conquer, but I so understand the small house/sound issues/same bed issues...Even under best circumstances, it falls apart some nights.
So, when it falls apart the only suggestion I have is to let go and accept it. Say a little prayer and remind yourself of how lucky you are, how much you love your kids, how everyone is doing the best they can in that very moment.
I've been having some rough wake up times (4am!) in our house - I think the short days/not enough sunlight really messes with the sleep cycles.

My vote is to accept and live with the melatonin. We use it with our son (age 3) and .5 mg makes the difference between a snoring child at 7:30 or one who is still singing loudly at 10 pm. We've tried innumerable bedtime routines, plus little screen time and much outdoor time. Actually, we've tried all the suggestions listed. It's the melatonin works. Our pediatrician knows and approves.

Cafemama, you've got something that works. Even if it's not what you really want right now, I'm not sure that it means there's a problem with your children. It's just the way they are. A very wise woman told me that when you are doing something that's less than your ideal, it doesn't mean that will ALWAYS be the case. It's just what you need to do at this point in time.

for my seven year old, our bedtime routine just changed to meet needs of his first grade reading program. we read a picture book to him, he reads a picture book to us, then we go upstairs to do the usual jammies, brushing teeth, etc. he lays in bed while we read a chapter from a book, then he listens to an audiobook and falls alseep to it. every night. he sleeps for about 11 hours straight. our two-year old doesn't sleep at all and i will buy some melatonin. can anyone recommend brand that works well?

js: I must admit that's been my approach this week. it works, and I do lots of laundry. everyone goes to sleep without me bursting into tears.

tuki mama: we use the melatonin at Trader Joe's, which comes in 0.5mg chewable tabs. the boys like it and it's easy to adjust dosage. New Seasons carries a brand that's sold in larger quantities/dosages (I think 1mg each?) that is probably a better deal; the TJ version is $3.99 for 100 tabs.

I completely emphathise and am in a similar situation (though I only have one boy). I'm sorry I don't have any solutions (I am currently trying a new system but don't know if it's working yet!). I just wanted to mention that I've taken melatonin for jet lag before. I'm from the UK with an Americab husband originally from Portland and so visit Portland at least once a year. Melatonin gave both my husband and myself very freaky/druggy dreams and quite a spacey feeling once awake. It's actually not something you can buy in the UK - we purchased it from the states. I'm in NO way judging anyone's decision making but I did want to make you aware that from personal experience I wouldn't necessarily reccommend melatonin.

We are on day four of melatonin. Our pediatrician advised giving it to our son 7 days in a row and working really hard to establish a regular bed time and then we will continue with the bedtime and see/hope/pray if he has developed a habit of going to sleep at that time. The melatonin is amazing. he falls asleep in under 5 minutes. Bed time has gone from 3+ hours (which almost always ended in me absolutely losing my cool) to 35 minutes max. The crazy thing about our son is that he is not bad at night -- he is very calm and well behaved. He just can't fall asleep. And unfortunately, I am exhausted by 9 pm and I have to get up early for work, so having to stay awake until 11 to get him to sleep has been pushing me beyond my limits -- especially with a baby in the house now. The first two nights he said his stomach felt sick, but tonight he had a larger bedtime snack with his melatonin and he said his stomach felt better.

I'm intrigued by the melatonin idea. My older son (almost 5) is very good about going to sleep and falling asleep almost immediately (esp. now that he's dropped his nap!) but my little one (almost 2) is a party animal, and usually doesn't fall asleep until almost 10! (Bedtime for both usually starts around 8:30.) We call the toddler the "baby who never sleeps" and are at our wits' end. I've tried all sorts of changes, letting him roam the house and ignoring him; lying down with him and not letting him out of the bed (this mostly results in lots of fidgeting and crying, which is no good, since older brother sleeps in the bunk above him); letting him roam his room, with me sitting as boringly as possible in a chair reading my book; simply giving up and going about our normal late evening routine (books, TV, computer) with him until he actually seems tired), and none of them seems to make a difference.

So my immediate question: how much melatonin and when? And should I get my dr's okay first? What are the dangers?

My husband and I have a 5 year old daughter who still ends up in our bed t night. I have tried all the suggestions except for the Melatonin,and I still can't get her to stay in her bed at night. My problem is having an uncooporative husband. He gets her all energized when it is time to wind down,allows her to watch television at night with him till she falls asleep around 11:00pm!! I am beyond frustrated.I then have the stressful task of getting the whole family up every morning for school and work!! Any suggestions on how to get my husband on board with a routine bedtime and how important it is for our daughter to have a routine and plenty of sleep? I am at a loss? Help!

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