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Goodnight, Moon. Goodnight, Child. GO TO SLEEP!

Sleep is important, so important for the little folk.  Routines are important, too.  An urbanMama recently emailed us, looking for your tips and tricks with the bedtime routines:

OK, I've just lost my temper with my almost 5 year old for the nth night in a row due to what has become a way-too-drawnout bedtime routine.  She's almost 5, and for a long time the routine was brush teeth, 3 books, a couple songs, night night.  My husband and I have always alternated (we also have a 1 year old, so we take turns with each of them).  Over the years, bedtime has evolved into a routine that involves extensive storytelling after the bookreading, long chats, acting out stories, sometimes drawing the stories etc.  We try to keep it within a certain timeframe (about an hour) and while it is often the best quality time my husband or I have with her on work days, it is becoming absolutely draining.  In part because it is a long process but also because it so often ends with her whining, crying, and begging for more.  We have to wake up early so I feel like a bedtime btwn 8-8:30 is reasonable, but as of late it sometimes lasts later.  I need time to myself and with my husband afterward, and the worst part of all of this is that I am kind of dreading that time with her.  How do other families handle bedtime?  What are your routines, how do you establish limits, and also make it a pleasant good night?? 

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We, too, had a bedtime routine that morphed into an hour-long saga. We finally decided that we have time for 3 things. Her choices are: book, song, tell a story, prayers, quiet patting of the back. She can choose any three or three of the same, but that's what she gets. No more no less. Maybe you can incorporate some of the wonderful ideas you have (drawing the story, acting the story, etc.) but phase out some others? Our girl likes to choose different things each night. She knows she gets three, so sometimes it's 3 books, other times, a book, song, and prayers, but it's always up to her.

This seems to happen with us in bouts until we reign it back in. I actually think it is simply you defining what the routine is and then STICKING to it. There WILL most definitely be some whining and crying in the beginning when you start to ratchet it back, but when she sees you mean business, then it will all come together. I agree with the other poster that you can give your child the control to make some choices, but you have to define the options that you know you can live with. They come around pretty quickly also if they sense that too much extensive whining and crying on their part could actually lead to an even bigger cutback in the routine.

We also watched bedtime become more lengthy due to many "callbacks" after the lights were out. So now our routine is PJs, brush teeth, read a story, and then I say good night. My almost-4 year old then has 2 "tickets" to call me back twice. She always uses them immediately, for rituals: a small drink of water the first time, and a trip to the bathroom plus hugs & kisses the second time. She tends to want to converse during hugs & kisses (2nd ticket), at which point I remind her that she's out of tickets so we'll talk about whatever tomorrow. It's made the separation phase very routine, time-limited, and non-dramatic. Maybe a similar use of "tickets" for those before-lights-out activities? (BTW, she never loses or earns tickets. Those are constant, whereas I may say there won't be time for the story if she dawdles with PJs. She loves the story so that prompts cooperation). Good luck-- if you're feeling resentful, then it's taking too much time! and it's worth trying to strike a balance that feels good to you.

We've had bedtime routines occasionally drift out of control, but I'd guess that's not what's at work here. It's just that she wants more time and attention, things you're not always able to give (I'm not trying to make you feel guilty here!). But who doesn't want more of a good thing? Try to sit down together at other times to draw and tell stories. Then at bedtime, remind her that those aren't bedtime activities. Bedtime is for quiet activities that take place in bed, etc.

I wonder if any of the kids who are troublesome at bedtime simply have a hard time falling asleep for physiological reasons. When my boy was about three, his naturopath recommended that we give him one mg of melatonin at bedtime. They come in tasty sublingual tablets or even unflavored sublingual pellets (which my son likes too) and they have been a godsend. Keep in mind that some kids, due to their inherited brain chemistry and/or health issues, don't have normal levels of melatonin. We know lots of other families that use melatonin and our naturopath says it's perfectly safe for kids in low quantities. Now that my son is six we are giving him two mg.

This summer we started to have trouble with bedtimes for my 3yo -- the same types of things you are talking about. Always wanting more of whatever the routine was. We started to notice that certain bedtime activities, such as storytelling, were actually hyping him back up, so we cut those out. We theorized that that storytelling and songs stimulated his imagination more, and made it harder for him to settle down. So, you might try cutting out everything but reading together.

I am interested in the melatonin idea. My son has always had a hard time settling down to sleep, yet lack of sleep really impacts his behavior, badly.

The post could have been written by me! I recently read a mamapedia blog post about a study http://www.mamapedia.com/voices/parents-rejoice-developmental-researchers-finally-focus-attention-on-infant-sleep that is on younger children, but probably still relevant. It showed that emotional responsiveness is more influential than routine on how children 2 and younger sleep. http://gantdaily.com/2010/08/11/for-infant-sleep-receptiveness-more-important-than-routine/ Not sure if this helps you or not..

For me, I'm trying to adjust the routine so we get more of our quality time earlier and as part of a continuum that ends in bed at a decent time, and also staying on track the whole time is a big key to success. It's just that I don't always have control over it getting off track (dad decides to do something, phone call interrupts, etc.). But I stopped doing things like taking a minute to put in laundry or check email, as it derails the process.

When we were having trouble with bedtime, we switched to one book and 10-15 minutes for the kids to "read" to themselves in their beds. Then lights out - no lingering. The kids at that point were 3 and 7 and shared a room and tended towards amping each other up. It took a couple of nights for them to get used to the new routine, but they really loved having quiet book time before bed, so win-win. Since they've calmed down at bedtime, we've let the routine slip a little bit, but still shoot for lights out by 8:30.

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