Bedtime Rituals, Bedtime Routines

Parent Q&A

Need help dealing with morning and bedtime routines Jul 30, 2019 (1 responses below)
older baby bedtime without books Dec 28, 2017 (5 responses below)
  • I would like advice on dealing with my 7 year old’s difficulty with morning and bedtime routines. I try to give her 11 hours of sleep but in the morning, I still have to wake her and she’s irritable, defiant (the talking back and rude comments have escalated over the summer) and/or excruciatingly slow about doing stuff. Same thing for the evening routines but it’s harder as I’m tired at the end of the workday and feel the urgency of getting her into bed to get enough zzs. I start out being patient, empathetic, and able to use humor but then it gets to really be time to move on and I lose my temper. I try behavioral reward charts but she is not consistently motivated even though she picks the rewards. The latest thing I’ve tried is removing all of her books from the bedroom so she can’t stay up late reading. I feel locked into an unsuccessful cycle and frustrated that she is not doing tasks that she used to do with a smile earlier this year. Do other parents struggle with these issues? Any recommendations would be appreciated! 

    One thing we did after epic tantrums and difficulties in doing the things that needed being done was to sit down with our (almost) 7 year old daughter and ask her to help us think about ways to make the mornings go more easily. She wanted to read more and didn't like being rushed. I asked her to write a schedule if she could do it anyway she wanted. We came up (together, by setting some limits) with intervals of reading between accomplishing tasks. She wrote out the schedule herself. That has worked historically, though now we seem to be regressing. She's very unwilling to stop reading and also is completely unresponsive when she is reading. Yay, but also a pain. I did find that engaging her on finding the solution has helped some, but it doesn't seem to be a fully integrated solution. We started giving her melatonin (for brief intervals) to help reset her sleepy onset, which also helped, but I'm not a proponent of giving it to her regularly since talking with my (personal) endocrinologist. I know most people say there's no long term risks, but also not sure we have the data one way or another. In my daughter's case, I think the refusal to go to sleep has more to do with eagerness to keep reading than physiological not-tiredness. 

    After we read to her at bedtime, she gets 5 minutes after to read to herself to help her get sleepy. That mostly works....again your mileage may vary.

  • older baby bedtime without books

    (5 replies)

    I am looking for a bedtime routine suggestion that doesn't involve reading books. For the past few months we've been doing a routine of bath/pajamas, book, sleeptime. At first she was content to gaze at the pages and drift towards sleep, but at 6 months she wants to nom the pages. Unfortunately that seems to amp her up when she's already tired... I'm thinking of nixing the books in favor of some other wind down activity. Any other suggestions? 

    At that age, we did lullabies instead of books. Our routine was bath/pajamas, bottle/lullabies, sleeptime. Lullabies will also increase the number/quality of words that they hear, similar to books. I did some lullabies that I grew up with, and others that I learned specifically for bedtime. You can use songs like these: and, but I also recommend just singing songs that you like that have a quiet melody - they don't need to specifically be lullabies. I was singing non-English lullabies, so I don't have any specific recommendations for you from my experience, but perhaps something like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", "What a Wonderful World", "Sound of Silence", things like that.

    Hi there!  My daughter is 3.5 years old and we have been doing a bedtime routine since she was about 4-5 months. We’ve tweaked and changed it along the way to suit her changing development. We’ve always done reading books as the very first thing in our routine and then moved on to bath/pajamas/bed. I always felt like books was still an activity but a good segue to something more calm/quiet, which can be helpful later when your child becomes more active and they need a transitional activity. Some babies/children also respond to massage. My daughter had eczema pretty badly starting around 6 months so doing head to toe moisturizing cream immediately after bathtime every night was also part of our routine that seemed to be soothing. Some people do calm/quiet music but I think it depends on the child as that can also be stimulating for some babies and kids. Hopefully you find something that suits your family!  Good luck!

    And when your child is a year old she will want to turn pages; when she is two she will recite familiar passages with you; when she is older she will be a reader. In my experience the more you read to your children the more successful they will be. It's a wonderful habit to cultivate. Sounds like she's excited, that's great - as she grows up you can let her pick the books, and tell her when we finish this story it's time for bed. Or pick one book/story/poem that signifies end of reading/time for bed. I read to my girls from the time they could hold up their heads to when they decided that they could read faster by themselves. It was our bedtime ritual. Both are grown up and still read for pleasure and relaxation. I hope you will keep reading to your baby for many years to come.

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Conflicts with spouse about 3-y-o's bedtime routine

April 2007

My husband and I are struggling with how to handle our 3.5 year old son's bedtime routine. I'd like him to be in bed, lights our by 8:00 PM and I have a simple routine of books, pajamas, teeth brushed, and rocking with music that takes about 30 minutes. When my husband isn't home, this is what I've done and it's worked pretty well. Upstairs at 7:30, lights out at 8:00PM. On weekends, my husband is home and he has different ideas. He takes up to an hour for bedtime reading many more books, giving in to requests for ''one more...'' and usually starts putting him to bed at 8:00 so he's really not done untill 9:00PM. On occasion, my husband will be home early enough to put him to bed on weeknights and here lies the problem. Because we do things differently, my son has come to prefer having his dad put him to bed (and I can't blame him, he gets everything he wants and gets to stay up an hour later) and he is fighting me to stay up until his dad comes home so that he can have Dad put him to bed. What's worse is, his dad will often tell him that he's going to ''try to get home in time'' to put him to bed, but often doesn't so my son cries and whines refusing to let me put him to bed. We have two children, the babys routine, thankfully is quite simple. But I am exhausted by the end of the day (I also work) and want both children in bed by 8:00 PM so that I can have some much needed quiet time. I've asked my husband to stick to the same routine that I do at the same time, he says he will, but then just does it his way. He says I'm too rigid, but I think he really just enjoys knowing his son prefers him. Short of just giving up and letting dad put him to bed, at whatever hour, what can I do? I've been quite sad about this, each night my son whines on and on about wanting Dad on weeknights when I'm not sure when dad will be home, but I'm ready to call it a night. The hours between 6-8 are horrible. I feel so defeated and unnapreciated. frustrated

The problem with these sorts of conflicts with a preschooler is that it quickly turns into a power struggle and the preschooler has a lot more energy and will power to win! Nip the problem in the bud and just don't fight him. Let your husband put him to bed. Either your husband will get sick and tired of the inevitably longer and longer process and will switch to a routine similar to yours, or you all will find yourself with this new routine that takes one more responsibility off of you.

Also, it sounds like you are on the verge of taking it personally, having your feelings hurt by your kid's reaction. Remember that he's just a little kid and wants to have more say in his life. Its not personal. He loves you just the same. Jenny

i have a similar situation though my son is younger and i think my husband will go for the argument that DS will sleep better (fewer wakings in the night, will feel more rested in the morning) if he goes to bed by 7:30. could you use that argument with your husband?
It sounds to me like you need to get strong and lay down the rules for both your son AND your husband. Unless your husband is willing to come home early and help out or simply take over, he has no right to question how you do things or undermine your parenting. And it is very unfare of him to tell his son that he will try to come home early and put him to bed and then he doesn't show up. That's totally NOT FARE to you or your son. Not only does it undermine you, but it is hurting your son. Your son is filled with hope and anticipation that his father will come home soon and put him to bed. What does this do to him everytime his father doesn't show up? What kind of message is he sending to his son? It shouldn't be up to you to fulfil that hope and keep him awake. It is the responsibility of your husband to fulfil his promis and to not mislead his son or give him false hope. You also need to tell him that it is exhausting for you to have to battle with the bedtime routine. Your husband needs to understand how important it is for children to get plenty of sleep and how improtant it is for a routine, and especially how important it is for you to get both children in bed at the same time at 8PM SO THAT YOU CAN REST! Does your husband really need to work late? If so, then he needs to understand that you are having to work extra hard after you come home from work taking care of the kids and putting them to bed. If he feels like he needs to connect with his son and spend quality time, then he needs to come up with a better plan that doesn't cause stress for you or interferes with your routine with the children. He needs to either come home early and put his son to bed by 8PM, or he needs to wait until the weekend and spend the whole day with his son and still put him to bed by 8PM. If he wants to read him a lot of stories, he can do that during the day. Laurey
I swear, when I was reading your post, I was thinking, ''Did I write a post to BPN and forget?'' I have your EXACT problem! I am sure my friends will think I wrote it - except I don't have a job. I have no advice, my husband and I even went to therapy for 6 months over this exact issue, and...nothing changed. Except we ran out of money, with the cost of therapy and babysitting. All I can say is, if you want an understanding ear, e-mail me. I have stopped talking about it with my other mommy friends because I think I am becoming annoying. But the therapist we saw was terrific, her name is Claire Stone and she has a website - you can google her. You may have better luck than us. Another frustrated mommy/wife
Good job getting the kids in the routine! If it were me, I'd offer my husband a couple of options, and explain how difficult it is to essentially be a single parent most nights of the week.

1. If you want to come home earlier and start the routine earlier so they're still in bed by 8, then great.

2. If you are dealing with the kids all the time and you want to do it your way, then great.

3. Since I have to deal with the aftermath of the routine when it's messed up, if you can't come home earlier/get the kids up and out in the morning, etc., then you have to get the kids in bed by 8 or let me do it. Period. This is a problem. I envy you being so organized as to get something done in the evening, and it is hard when you're a ''single parent.'' You can also try telling your husband that it's great that your son wants him to do the routine, but it needs to be a routine that works for both of you. Kindly but firmly, if you can, you need to educate your husband.

How about making the rule that it's your schedule during the week and his during the weekend? That's a simple enough rule for your 3.5 year old to understand. That'll give you ''your time'' during the week when you REALLY need it. And then (hopefully) your husband helps out on the weekends so that 9 p.m. is not as exhausting as it would be during the week for you.

On the bright side, it's nice that your husband wants to see your kids at the end of the day. There are families where the children go to bed by 7:30 or earlier, with parents who come home home regularly after the kids' bedtimes. Anon

I think that you should be way too exhausted to have sex if your son doesn't get to bed until 9. But if your son gets to bed at 8, you are raring to go. Try that and see if your husband figures out what's in his best interest. Mine did. Consequences work with everyone
My main thought was that I wondered whether it would be possible to make a permanent shift in your son's bedtime to 9 pm, while also trying to get him to get up an hour later. Could your entire routine be shifted throughout the day so that lunch is an hour later, etc. and the baby's naptimes too?

I was thinking if everything could be shifted an hour later, then your son and his father would have more time together during the week, which may be what this is all about. It's great that your son's dad really wants to spend time with him after work and put him to bed. I'm sure your son is yearning for that time to connect with his dad. My son, who is 2, has a really hard time if he doesn't get to spend at least an hour with his dad each day. Your son may be feeling the same thing. My husband too has an awful work schedule, but I try to shift bedtimes/dinner times a bit each day to make it more likely that they'll be able to see each other. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's really great for both of them to have that time to connect. Best of luck, Laurel

Yes you do need time to unwind at the end of a long day and 9:00 pm becomes too late for you. May I suggest that, you and your husband agree that he take on the more flexible, longer- lasting, later bed time routine which fits his style on Fridays and Saturdays when you and he do not have the preasures of the work day ahead of you the next day. You can do some relaxing while your husband is doing the bed time routine. During the week however, you take on the bed time earlier routine. If you institute this consistantly, even call it ''weekend go to bed'' and ''weektime go to bed'' to clearly distinguish the difference and give your son no options in the matter, he will adjust to the routine, but it must be a routine. This way you all get at least some of what you want. Good luck! Keley

Parents disagree about bedtime ritual for 2yr old

Feb 2005

My husband and I seem to be at an impasse regarding an appropiate bedtime for our toddler. Early on in our son's life my husband expressed an interest in bathing him and reading him a story before bedtime. I have been supportive of him completely as I am a stay at home mom and felt this was good for father and son I feel a reasonable time to start the bath is 7pm or shortly after so that our son is ready to transition to bed by 8pm. My husband has really never got it together and seems to always be finished by 8:30pm or 9pm. He does not seem to understand that bedtime rituals is a time to wind down not gear up. (my husband is a night owl, our son is not). I am concerned about the wellbeing of our household. I would appreciate any suggestion, especially from fathers on how to be firm in making this happen closer to the time I see as appropiate for a 2 year old. anon

Tell your husband that a child this age needs about 12-14 hours of sleep a night. If going to bed that late deprives your child of a full night of sleep, then your child is at risk for growth, development and behavioral problems. Dr. M
I am father, who also does the nighttime ritual with my two young sons. My wife works most nights, and it's been mostly my responsibility since the boys were babies. But like at your house, my wife and I have been at constant odds about the timing of bedtime. I know now our disagreement arises from a number of different issues. First, my wife can't control the ritual when she's not there, so too easily makes the assumption that it's not done right. I sense you're suffering the same frustration, as you said that you and your husband are at an impasse. I suspect the only one in the relationship feeling that there is an impasse is you: as the bedtime ritual is the one thing you can't exclusively control, you may too easily make the assumption that it's not done right. Perhaps you also blame your husband for a late-night bedtime whenever your child is a little cranky on any day. Second, men and women think differently about time. A woman may say ''8:30 bedtime'' but more probably means a process of reducing activity that centers around an average of in-bed but not yet asleep at 8:30. A man may more typically think 8:30 applies to only a component of bed-time, like falling asleep on the dot at 8:30. It's a difficult thing to achieve. Third, there's no good time to start the process of going to bed. Depending on the activities of the day, my children ! will go to bed readily or not readily at all. One has to read their energy levels, and start the process accordingly. Often I do try to get them going, playing and wrestling with them, to get the energy out they haven't yet had a chance to release during the day. What I've done to help reduce the blame of late-night bedtimes, is to mark on a chart on the wall in the children's bedroom, timing and content of each nighttime: time-in-bed,time asleep,activities,reading,bath/no bath,problems like sickness. Of course, it's no picnic to have to try and prove parenting competencies etc to one's own spouse. But what I've found is that my in-bed average does center on the same ''bedtime'' insisted by my wife, though the actual time varies considerably, and time-asleep can be widely variable. It's been useful too for monitoring nighttime activities (always some reading, less TV than I had thought, ! different games and activities). A stay at home when not at work Dad
You might think about how it matters that baby gets to bed late. I have to start the bedtime routine by 7 or my daughter gets to bed at 830 or 900, which is too late for me, particularly since we have to get up early in the morning. On the other hand, if I were a SAHM, and my husband actually had the initiative to do it, I'd probably welcome it either way. If it works for you except for the time, maybe you can encourage your husband to start earlier in other ways, such as asking for a little time so the two of you can visit, watch a show, play a game, cuddle, etc., and ask him if he minds if you remind him to start earlier. For me, I just have to do it myself, and start when it works for me, although I'm working on having him help more. (Although he cleans up the kitchen, my husband gets to relax for! up to an hr while I do the bedtime routine, then I have to do other cleanup and prep, which tends to annoy me, but he sees it as his free time... so I would welcome the help!). jan
If the later bedtime is negatively affecting your son's behavior or health, then I am sure that pointing this out to Daddy would be enough to get him to at least make an effort toward starting the bedtime ritual earlier. But if the only reason you want your son to be asleep earlier is your own concept of what is ''appropriate'' for his age, I think the best solution to the problem is for you to adjust your expectations, rather than for Daddy to change his habits. If Daddy is in charge of bedtime, then Daddy is in charge of bedtime, and that includes the time. In my own household, by the way, both parents work and on a somewhat later schedule than most people, so a traditional early bedtime has never been practical. My son's bedtime has never been earlier than 9pm, and by ''bedtime'' I mean that's when he's in pajamas and in bed being read to -- he doesn't actually fall asleep until somewhere between 9:30 and 10:00 most of the time. He gets enough sleep and wakes happy, so I think that's perfectly appropriate. In fact, when he was 2, he tended to go to bed later rather than earlier, because there was no particular reason he had to get up at any set time in the morning until he started preschool.

Obviously your own household is different and it may be more convenient for you to have your son in bed earlier -- but if it's more convenient for his father to put him in bed later, and it's not causing your son to sleep poorly or behave badly, I think you should leave well enough alone. Night Owl Mom

Our son is two also and we do the same thing you do- bathe him and read a story. We also want him to bed at 8 but it always seems to be later. I used to think the later the better- more time for 2 working parents to spend with him, but I've realized that's selfish, and he needs his sleep more. What helped to actually get him down right at 8 or even 7:45 was to have dinner early, like around 6. (and as all working families know, that's no easy task when you get home at 4:30 or 5) So if we have dinner at 6, then by 6:30 one of us can give him a bath while the other clean! s up. He's in his p.j.'s by 7 and you've got an entire hour to read books, have a bottle, nurse, or whatever. He's very relaxed when he's in his jammies and spending time with us. He's not worried about going to bed or anything. It seems like the key was the early dinner (or if you already eat at that time, put him right in the bath after dinner) so everything else can take a little more time. lee

Getting two kids, 3 and 5, brushed, pj'd, and into bed

Sept 2004

HI, I have a 3 and 5 year old, and struggling with ways to get them to brush their teeth, put on pajama's , and stay in bed. any fun suggestions/tips? anything? thank you so much. lorrie

We use a timer and race to get everything done. It works like a charm. I usually set it for about 10 minutes and then dramatically and frantically try to beat the clock with lots of cheering when we do. As far as staying in bed, I used a chart. The got a smiley face for every night they stayed in bed and a frownie face if they got out of bed. The smiley face was accompanied with lots of high fives and ''You did its!'' I highly recommend the book ''How to Behave So Your Children Will Too'' for more tips. Helena
Have you tried a bedtime chart, made with their help, that shows each task to be done before bed? Kids seem to get a kick out of ''checking off'' each step. And regarding staying in bed, we tried something that sounded too simple to be true, but it worked. Each time our son got out of bed, I would kindly and gently but wordlessly lead him back to bed and tuck him in. Since I'm not speaking, there's no way to get wrapped up in the game to see how long he can keep me there. And seriously: 2 nights and he was done getting out of bed. Good luck. DL
I actually just accidentally discovered a so-far quite effective way of keeping my 4 yr old and 2 yr old in bed after lights-out. I put on a CD or story tape at low-volume and let them listen to it until they fall asleep. The 4 yr old in particular doesn't want to miss any of it, so she stays in bed, and they always are asleep before it finishes. anon

2.5 year old's ever lengthening bedtime ritual

Sept 2003

We have always been oriented toward the attachment parenting side of nightime parenting but the ever-lengthening bedtime ritual with our 2 1/2 year old son is now eating up every second of my personal time I have after working all day. Since he's been in his big boy bed, (about 4 months now) he won't go to sleep unless I actually lie down with him. (This is after reading or telling him stories for a good hour!) I love the snuggling and closeness but half the time I fall asleep with him and wake up at 10:30 pm. I've tried leaving him to let him fall asleep alone but he just keeps yelling and crying for me and it doesn't feel right to have him fall asleep in anger and misery. He won't let my husband put him to bed at night if I'm around as he's into a very serious ''Mommy-only'' phase right now so it's not even like we can take turns. He wakes up once at night usually and will come into bed with us to finish sleeping or will go back to sleep if we hang out with him by his bed. I can handle this but I'm really starting to get a little nuts from feeling like the only way to get him to fall asleep is to end my evening at 8:30 and just lie down and fall asleep with him. I'm sure I'not the only one out there. Has anybody successfully helped make this transition? Exhausted Mommy

I hear you on the long bedtime rituals. Ours were also very long in the beginning of the Big Boy bed. At about 2 1/2 though, my son also gave up naps for good, and so his bedtime is now earlier (like between 7 and 7:30 if no nap) and he also falls asleep more quickly it seems. I still read him stories, but tell him to pick only 2 (short) books (from the ones we keep in his room for just this occasion. You can edit!!!) Sometimes I tell him that I need to do something else (use the potty, clean up upstairs etc) and that I will come right back, and by the time I come back he is asleep. Sometimes I lie in the bed or sit on a stool by the bed until he falls asleep, mainly now because we have another new baby and this is some of the only really ''alone'' time we have with each other. I think with time as they get used to sleeping alone that they require less routine. BUT you really need to set the limits of time (maybe start earlier) and also of #'s of books/stories etc. in the routine instead of just doing whatever they ask, and then they will probably follow. As an interesting note to this, when I go out for the evening to a class and my husband puts my son to bed, he gives him a drink, tucks him in, kisses him goodnight and my son goes to sleep without a big fight at all. This abbreviated bedtime comes as a result of us now having two kids when only one parent is available at bedtime and so not being able to devote so much time to just one at a time.

Interestingly enough, my son was also at a ''Mommy Only!!'' phase at this age and has pretty much gotten over it by now (3 years and 3 months) though he still prefers me when he has a choice. He would not let my husband go to him in the night, get him dressed, or even serve him breakfast if I were around six months ago. I gather from friends and other posts in this newsletter this is very common at your son's age, and be comforted he will outgrow it, especially as you can reason and discuss more with him with his expanding verbal and reasoning capabilities. cab

I am in the exact same place as you... with my 3.5-year-old. So I don't have the sort of advice you're looking for, but if you can't bite the bullet (like me) here are some things we have done to make the process easier:

1) My husband does all the getting ready for bed stuff (teeth, washing up, etc.) and reads the bedtime stories. She accepts this, knowing that I will put her to sleep. This gives me some free time. I tell her that if she doesn't cooperate for her dad, I won't come up at all. It's also good for my daughter and her dad to have that time together. (If this proves impossible, i'd also suggest cutting the storytime back. We've imposed some limits, such as 2-3 very short books, 1 long book, etc.)

2) I put an armchair next to her bed. Often I can just sit in the chair while she goes to sleep (again, one can threaten that it's either Mom-in-the-chair or No-mom-at-all). Or sometimes I sit on the bed with her head on a pillow in my lap. Sitting up keeps me more awake.

3) Shortly after the lights go out I enforce quiet rules. If she can't be quiet, I leave the room for a minute.

4) I try (and this isn't easy) to focus on positive things while i sit or lie there with her -- like nice things we did that day. I try to avoid thinking about the long list of other things i need to be doing. Also, sometimes when I sit or lie there in the dark, I try to use the time constructively -- practice a yoga stretch, if she won't notice, do some of the deep breathing and relaxation exercises that i'm supposed to do (of course, that can lead to sleep...)

5) Sometimes, especially when she's having a late bedtime and maybe I'm extra tired, I just accept the fact that I am going to fall asleep. I get ready for bed and climb in with her. If I wake up extra early as a result then I can have some free time in the morning.

6) For a period, when she was really obsessed with being a big girl, I told her that big girls go to sleep on there own. This actually worked a couple nights! But now she's in a regressive, baby stage, and that argument won't get us anywhere. But if yours goes through an eager-to-be-older stage, try it. Good luck

It's sounds like you are really trying hard. You must be so tired. My husband and I did not go the attachment parenting route. We developed a routine with our son early on that involved reading 3 books, then cuddle time while listening to a toy that plays music and shows ceiling lights (the up side is that when the music ends, we have a clearly designated time to get up, and leave the room), and good night kisses. Although our son had been used to this routine since he was about 5 months, at 2 and a half, he suddenly seemed to have difficulty with us leaving the room. It was startling for us, because it hadn't been an issue until then. For several months, we began staying with him until he fell asleep. But, this didn't work for us for two reason. First, he seemed to stay awake longer trying to be sure that we did not leave him. And, second, since we both work and rise very early, if our son is not asleep on his own by 8:45 (we start bedtime around 8 or 8:15) we have no time at all with each other and no time either to prepare for the next day or just wind down as adults. Even though I love my son and cherish our time together, I began to feel resentful and a bit desperate that there was no time during the day for me or for me to have time with my husband. It didn't seem like the best way to have time with my son, and it also didn't seem like it was making him feel more secure. So, we went back to using the music as our cut off time. Also, we do the bedtime routine together. My husband does the toothbrush routine. I usually read the stories - but sometimes my husband reads one or two and I read the last one - and sometimes we just all three lie together in our son's bed while we read. Then, I cuddle for one song. When it ends, my husband comes in and cuddles for one song. (This way we each get a little trade off time too - a few moments to ourselves which feels nice as well.) When the song ends for the second time, my husband goes out. Our son took a while to get used to us going out again, and that was hard. But, it felt important to me that my husband and I also get a little time together as adults. If our son became very upset after my husband left, I would go back in, kiss and sit with him a moment, explain that we would leave the door open, we would be in the living room, if he needed anything we would be right there - but, that mommy and daddy need a little special adult time together, and it was time for him to go to sleep. If necessary, I would repeat this a couple of times - the explanation, kiss and exit - each time explaining that mommy and daddy needed a little time as adult time. Eventually, he seemed to accept this and stopped calling out. You really do deserve some time at the end of the day to yourself. It's important. I find that it makes me much happier and much better able to be the kind of patient and loving parent and person that I strive to be the rest of the day. Good luck. debora
My daughter needed for us to cuddle her or lay down with her in order for her to fall asleep or fall back asleep until age 2. At age 2, we moved her to a bed and gradually eased her into falling asleep on her own. At about 2 and 3 months, she was able to fall asleep on her own and sleep through the night (hooray!!!) Here's what we did:

1. Made several tapes of me reading stories. Play tape while falling asleep (I think in addition to getting to hear me, she had to lay still to hear the tape which helped her fall asleep.)

2. Transition from cuddling/laying next to to sitting in a chair beside the bed and holding her hand or rubbing her back. This involved some crying/begging at first, but I stuck to ''Mommy can't lay next to you, but I would love to hold your hand/rub your back.'' After about a week, no more crying.

3. Then sit next to the bed without touch (again, initial crying, but passed within a week) 4. Then, gradually move chair out the door (several week process)

5. Then, I would sit outside the door for a few minutes and then say ''Mommy needs to . . .(some chore) I'll come back in a few minutes.

6. That was it. We still play the tape for night and nap, but other than that, our daughter falls asleep on her own and it wasn't too painful. Again, it was about a 2 month process, but it seemed like a loving transition. Hope that helps. h

We have a CD of lullabies that we have played while my son nursed to sleep since he was born. It is now the last step of his bedtime routine; I push ''play'' as soon as we finish reading the last of three (and only three!) books/stories. When, shortly after he moved to a 'big boy bed', he developed a habit of a lot of wriggling around, refusing to nurse, refusing to settle, etc. we made a rule that Mommy only stays with him while the music is playing, and leaves when it stops whether he's asleep or not. If he is still awake and messing around by the time the second- or third-to-last song begins, I start warning him that Mommy is going to leave soon, when the music ends, and usually that's enough to get him to settle down. When it's not, I get up and leave anyway; sometimes Daddy goes in to soothe him and take a turn lying down with him, and sometimes my son asks to go to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed (even without us there) instead of his own, but he got used to the new rule pretty quickly and most of the time he's asleep well before we're anywhere near the end of the lullabies.

The other thing that has really helped is to adjust his naptime a bit earlier, and we've made an effort to have dinner a little earlier as well. That way, he's more ready to sleep at bedtime!

I do still fall asleep in his bed sometimes, usually when I'm low on sleep myself. But usually I keep myself awake by reading; a small directional lamp on his headboard helped a lot. And if my husband notices that the music has stopped and I haven't appeared, he'll come and nudge me. :-) I figure if I'm that tired, I should spend my ''personal time'' sleeping anyway. So it works out. Holly

Hi, Here is what you can do, it worked for us. At 2 1/2, they understand what is going on. You can say that, in order for you to be a good mother, you need him to sleep on his own so you can get some time to yourself. Then put him to bed. Put a gate at his door if you think he is going to get out of his bed and say: ''You can cry if you want to but I am not coming back. You need to go to sleep now. I love you.'' Then when he cries, send your partner. When he sleeps, take the gate off. It took about a week for our first two kids. It's hard though but I needed some time too and I was a better mom the next day... good luck

2.5-yr-old's bedtime routine too ornate?

June 2003

I'm tired of arguing with my husband about our 2 1/2 year old daughter's bedtime ritual. He thinks it's too ornate. It takes about half an hour to 40 minutes (including pajama-ing and teeth- brushing). I read her a book or 2, we read a couple of pages of Goodnight Moon (she flips thru the book really fast), I turn off all of the lights and nurse her while playing 2 mellow songs and then I sit w/ her for a few minutes in a chair in her room. Does that seem excessive to you? What is your bedtime routine and how old is your kid? I'm curious to know, too, how it has changed as your child gets older. Thanks! Molly

Your bedtime ritual sounds pretty normal to me. You have to get them in their jammies and brush their teeth. My only suggestion to you would be that whatever you do, you'll end up having to do the same thing every night because kids don't like change. Eventually you may want to eliminate the bedtime nurse and sitting til she falls asleep. It is really a matter of when you get tired of it. I eliminated the bed time nurse by having my husband take over the actual putting to bed, including the reading of the books. He reads two books and no more - (because otherwise there is negotiations to read more, also the books get longer as they get older). My son has a ritual of how he says goodnight to me too, same words everynight. It will get a bit shorter as they get older, but 1/2 hr to 40 min. sounds standard to me. Susan
We also have a 2 1/2 year old and her bedtime routine probably takes about 10 - 15 minutes. We change her p.j.s, brush her teeth and have her use the potty, then read 2 books to her and sing her a short song. It sounds similar to your routine, except without the breastfeeding...does that take a lot of time for you? We also have a 7 1/2 year old and her routine takes about the same amount of time...she puts her p.j.s on, brushes her teeth, we read a little from a chapter book and it's lights out. On days that she does not have to wake up early for school, she is allowed to stay up a little later and read a book by herself. I have to say that I have tried to streamline the bedtime routines because, by that point, I just want them in bed and I I need a break! I'm not sure that I would have the patience to go through a 40 minute routine! However, if we change the routine or try to cut out a book or song, the 2 1/2 year old has a hard time settling down and it ends up taking longer to get her to sleep. Good luck
Your bedtime ritual is ornate because you have the freedom to make it so. Lucky for you, and for your daughter! With my first child, I read her three books every night, rocked her, sang to her, and both she and I loved it. With my third baby, I simply throw him in his crib and say goodnight. I would not say that one way or the other is better--just different. I simply do not have the time anymore, and there is always something that needs to be done (dishes, things picked up, mail to sort, laundry to fold...). These early years pass so quickly that I say do whatever feels good for you and your daughter. It is a wonderful bonding time, and one that will be gone all too soon. As long as she is not ''making'' you stay in her room, and as long as you do not feel resentful or forced into the time you spend each night, what is the harm? Enjoy it while it lasts. Mary
Sounds about right to me. We have a 4.5 yo and a 2.5 yo and we read about 3 books, turn off the light, lay down with our kids, and we are usually able to leave about 10 minutes after that. So about 45 minutes seems right. Laurel
Your bedtime routine seems entirely typical to me. Pajamas, brushing teeth, reading, lights out and nursing is exactly what we do with our 2-year-old as well, and it takes about the same amount of time. When he's with a babysitter, of course, he doesn't nurse, and she's generally able to tuck him in and leave. When we're home, we have to stay with him until he falls asleep (otherwise, he gets back up and comes looking for us, and it's easier for us to lie down with him than it is to keep putting him back to bed) so it takes a bit longer. I do have a rule that Mommy leaves the room when the music stops -- we have a lullaby CD that we always play when we're finished reading -- and if he's not asleep yet at that point usually Daddy relieves me.

A recent informal poll of another online mom's group I'm involved in revealed that most people take about a half hour for the kids' bedtime routine, often longer if they include a bath as part of it.

In short, what you're doing is reasonable and normal, and it's your husband who's out of line with his complaints. Holly

I just wanted to mention that we just recently modified our 2 year old daughters bedtime routine without much of a problem whatsoever. We were scared to tamper with what seemed like such a critical pattern, but in the end, it was actually no big deal to her. She sort of asked about a few of the things that disappeared for a few nights, but that was it ... and then, she began to request/make new changes herself. Now I think she actually likes it that things (within reason!)don't have to be exactly the same every night. camille
My husband has the same complaint with my bedtime routine for our 2 children, 2yo and 3.5yo. While still nursing our youngest, bedtime could take up to an hour, as both our children did not want me to leave the room.

I got into the habit of laying down with them for 10+ min. each, and then often fell asleep with them. This did not go over well with my husband, who wanted to spend time together or get stuff done with me. He would sometimes come in and read to the kids too, and would often crash on their bed. This was not the kind of routine that we wanted to continue, as it didn't lend to getting things done at night, nor much intimacy. We also noticed that the kids seemed too dependent on us to go to sleep. So we finally agreed to change things.

First we determined that each of us had separate ideas of what bedtime should be -- I wanted to stick to a routine of bath, teeth brushing, pj's, books, and prayers. He wanted to stick to a bed TIME. What was happening was even if I got a late start with the routine, I would keep the routine which spread bedtime past the time my husband wanted them in bed. So, we compromised by agreeing to start the ritual earlier, and if it got too late, we'd default to the kids' bedtime and skip some of the other stuff. Both kids try to stay up, so keeping to a time instead is better, because they always seem to stay up past bedtime anyways. Good luck! am

Hi! My first reaction was, does your routine work well for your child. The second was, your routine sounds just about as normal as can be to me. Adults have the capacity to read in bed or listen to music, or something that turns them over from hectic day/lots in your head to white noise. Children don't. Starting with pajamas and toothbrushing, etc is the way to calm them down and know that bed is coming. 30 minutes is about how long it takes us with our 1 1/2 yr old to go from 'ok, lets go upstairs and get ready for bed (750) to lights out and in the crib(820 or so). Sometimes more, if i think he's too alert to just slip into sleep, sometimes less (oops, i think he's about to fall asleep on the changing table ) One of our male friends who takes care of his child fulltime noted that men have a harder time calming their children down, they like to be 'up' with them, be animated, wrestle, etc. Maybe your husband just isn't that keen on the quiet time, and maybe it can be your special time with your child.

All in all, with all the advice you might receive, if it works for you and your child, and it isn't harmful, then its right! FL

I don't know if there is a right answer -- *anything* with a 2 1/2 year old involves mediating between your needs and theirs. But your ritual is not excessive at all. Forty minutes sounds about right. In our house, especially when our boy was that age (he is 5 now), we let him ''drive'' to some extent. It rarely stretched out too long, and when it did, there was often a reason for it -- something on his mind that he needed extra assurance about, and he needed some ''space'' to work it out. I think small children can feel especially vulnerable during that pre-sleep time. It is part of our job as parents to help them to feel safe and loved. They also process things differently than we do, especially those small separations (bedtime, etc). They need our support.

I have to ask -- where is your husband during this time? What's his hurry? If I were him I would cherish every minute and leap at the opportunity to make his little girl feel cared for. He can't nurse, but he can participate in all the other activities. With all due respect, your problem is not with your girl's bedtime ritual, but with your husband's attitude. -- Dan

My son is six, and it takes 30-45 minutes easily w/ dressing, washing, brushing, and reading, and story telling. Then I scratch his back for a few seconds, and he is out. I can't really see any real way to cut that back, nor would I want to. I find it to often be the best part of my day, and we both enjoy the ''ritual'' aspects of it, I think. Kean
Bedtime is a special bonding time that I think my son will be willing to give up before I am. He's almost 11, and he still gets read to for 1/2 hour every night just before bed. I usually lie down next to him for a minute, but it's only for a good night hug and kiss. Used to be, he wanted me to stay a while. It's really the only time of day he tells me things, so I was often willing to comply. So my answer is that I don't think spending 30 to 45 minutes with her is too much! Perhaps you just need to make sure you're not too tired after it to have ''alone time'' with your husband. Or make bedtime a bit earlier so you have more time with him. Or even get him involved in bedtime. My son's dad and I used to alternate reading to him. So every other night I got to take long walks! anon
Thirty to 45 minutes seems to be the average in our house too, and personally I don't think that's an excessive amount of time. We have a 3 1/2 yr. old and have been doing the same routine since she was about 2. It usually goes like this bath, teeth, pajamas, read 2 books and sing 2 songs (Two seems to be the magic number for her). I let her pick the books. If she picks a longer one (like Dr. Suess) I tell her we can only read one. This all takes about 40 minutes. I guess some parents might see this as excessive, but since I work all day, I actually look forward to this time I get to spend alone with my daughter.

Your husband might think your routine is too ornate, but if you enjoy doing it and it works for your child, does it really matter? I have never heard of a toddler who could just be put to bed without some kind of routine. They need the wind-down time. If your husband is annoyed at how long it takes, maybe you can trade off with him - one parent does the bath routine and the other does the reading, etc. anon

Your routine sounds pretty streamlined to me. My 4 year old's routine is more extensive bath, brush teeth, jammies, watch a ''couple three minutes'' of TV if he is good about teethbrushing, read three books (one long, two short), pray, sing (four short songs), daddy comes in to tell a story (an ongoing saga he's worked up), mommy returns for hugs and kisses. It takes a while, but once we're done, we're done. My husband feels our routine is too elaborate too (it probably is - a word of caution - never ADD anything to your routine bcs you can't take it away again) - so dad's role in it has become rather minimal (he cleans the kitchen while I start the drill, then he gets to lie in bed reading Sports Illustrated until called on stage to deliver the story). I say if she goes to sleep without a struggle then whatever you are doing, by all means, don't mess with it. Fran
Too ornate? I am puzzled why your husband would care. But, anyway, reassure your husband that this is *exactly* the right thing to do. First of all, children have difficulty with change, particularly abrupt change (e.g. changing from being up and about to being in bed). By making ''going-to-bed'' a process, your child has a nice transition period for going to bed that makes it less upsetting. It seems odd to us as adults, but this is often why children become fussy about going to bed, even when they're tired. Ditto taking baths (it can be a struggle to get them in and then a struggle to get them out! ) Making going to bed a lovely experience has the added benefit that, when your child is a little older and you want him to go to bed (so that you and your spouse can have some alone time), you will be a lot less likely to have to struggle with your child about it, because going to bed has become something that he associates with being loved (that's why it's a good idea NEVER to use sending them to bed as a punishment). What you're doing isn't ornate and is a perfect way to help your child adjust to having to go to bed. Good for you! anon
That's a pretty sound critique coming from someone who doesn't participate in the bedtime ritual. It sounds like your husband needs to take some responsibility for putting your child to bed. I would suggest that he do the jammies and the teeth and the reading and then you nurse and sit, that way you break down the actual time and he might get a better idea of what your daughters needs may be. For my own daughter it has mostly been a drink and a nurse and she falls off fairly quickly (5-15 minutes). We read a book or three before hand and have been getting the routine shortened as her days get longer and she gets more active. She's three now and i believe she's doing fine with the bedtime routine, although i have similar arguements with my own husband and and still feel that if he wants to critique he needs to actively participate in the ritual. My Two Cents
yikes! my 2 and 1/2 year old and i have pretty much the exact same bedtime ritual as you do (minus the mellow music), but it takes us at least an hour. what is your secret to doing it so quickly? i don't understand how your husband could think this was too ornate. what should you cut out? the reading? confused
Your bedtime routine sounds a lot like ours, and I think we're pretty efficient. My daughter is almost 2 1/2 years old and I'll spend anywhere from 30-60 minutes on bedtime. Has your husband ever put your daughter down? If not, maybe he doesn't realize how suitable the routine is for your daughter. Have you asked him how long he thinks it should take and what he would get done in the allotted amount of time? (i.e. brushing teeth takes 10 minutes, reading books is 10-15 minutes, changing clothes can take 5-10 minutes depending on whether I do it or my daughter does it ''all by herself.'') I love the time I get to spend with my daughter at bedtime, winding down and lying with her to the exclusion of almost everything else (tv, phone, reading, cleaning, etc.) The down side is it leaves little time for hanging out with my husband or our hang-out time goes into the wee hours. Maybe your husband misses you? Mom with two kids
For that age, that sounds like pretty good timing! If anyone can do it faster, I'd love to hear how they do it. But then again, a half hour is what some adults take, and that ain't a lot of time out of the evening to spend some (hopefully) nice time with your child! Considering half of our nightly struggle with our 3 year old is the teeth/pajamas routine, we all need nice quiet time with a book/chat/music for at least 15-20 minutes. I would like to wonder politely what your husband's expectations are, and why isn't he doing any of the routine? The quiet bonding time goes a long way in creating happy times for you and your child. Ellen
Molly, I think your bedtime routine is great. We decided to move nursing a little earlier hopefully in preparation for weaning someday, but it is otherwise similar for our 27 month old. We do bath, jammies, nurse, toothbrushing, 1 story cuddling in bed with the lights on, lights out, still cuddling in bed together talk about ''Zeke's big day'' very soothingly naming the things he did that day, then sing 3 songs (the same ones every night), kiss him good night, sing half of his prayers sitting on the bed, the other half standing by the bed, then good night and door closed. I'd say that not including bath it takes 30 minutes or so. I do have occasional concerns that it won't be reproducible for a babysitter, but it works for us. Katya
I wanted to say that I wish our daughter's bedtime routine were only 30 minutes long! She is just about 5, so it may not be relevant, but this is her routine: potty, bath, brush teeth, pajamas, stories, songs, and music box (I leave after winding up the music box). Whew! Potty takes forever as she likes to ''read'' on the potty. When she was potty training, we encouraged her to have a book. She so loved it, she has always continued that. It's a drag in terms of the length of the nighttime routine, but we don't want to discourage her love of books. As for how many books we read after washing up, it depends on how late it is. We've done as many as 5 and as few as 1, though often she is negotiating for one more book. Frankly, I'm just happy that she goes to sleep easily on her own and sleeps through the night, but I do really wish we could somehow get the routine cut back. At the same time, it is special time for us. Lori
I found your question interesting on a lot of levels. It wasn't clear what your husband issue with your daughter's bedtime routine truly is.

1. Routine taking too long? 30-40 minutes including brushing teeth is absolutely not too much time. I do at least that with my daughters (6 & 8) after the brushing teeth. We need the snuggle and the closeness. Each of us reads (me for the longest time), sometimes sing together, give each other foot massages, etc.

2. Too many different activities? It's what you have evolved to, and it works for you. It doesn't seem too complicated. Why would he care?

I wonder if there is something else going on.
* Is he concerned about your breastfeeding? Maybe he thinks it's time to stop but doesn't want to say it outright.
* Does he ever get to put his daughter to bed? She can handle somewhat different bedtime routines with different parents (my ex's routine is different from mine); maybe he is feeling left out. anonymous

My child is much younger than yours (21 months), but her bedtime routine (bath, PJs, milk and books, teeth) sounds similar to your child's and I think it is appropriate. Sometimes it does drag on, but it seems to work well for us. Liz O.
A few more words about the ''ornate'' bedtime (1) Yes, it is nice to have some relaxed, leisurely time with one's child at the end of the day. (2) Remind your husband that inevitably his sweet little girl will become a surly, independence-seeking adolescent and that at some point during those years she is almost sure to look at him and say, ''Don't come in and kiss me goodnight any more. I'm too old for that now.'' Which is not fun at all. Melanie
I'm glad someone finally stated the obvious --- it sounds like your husband misses you and is envious of the time you and your child spend together at bedtime. Perhaps there is a way for this to be positive for all three of you.... remind him that he gets a little solitude and peace while you are tucking her in --- and be sure that he gets some time with you as well.

Perhaps while you are busy he can make a pot of tea, and the two of you can sit down together and talk or read when you're done. Its tricky -- I know I used to crave being ALONE after the kids were down...but you need to take him into account, and let him know he matters. If evenings have to be your alone time, set time aside in the morning, or SOME time. Your healthy marriage is a gift you give your children. Heather

Thanks to everyone who posted in response to this, my question. I want to clarify, as my husband feels a little maligned. My husband *does* help with the bedtime routine. He diapers and pajamas our daughter, he tends to our newborn while I read to and nurse our gal to bed and he goes in and comforts her if she fusses after bedtime. Your posts helped a lot. It helped for him and I to sort out what his problems are with the routine, mainly that she wont be nursing forever and that I turn out all of the lights in the house while nursing her. It helped, too, to know that the time we take is normal.

Thanks again! Molly

3-yr-old adding food to bedtime ritual

February 2003

Our spirited 3.5 yr old boy has started a new series of bed time issues. The worst of which is he wants to eat again b/c he's hungry!

We serve him dinner around 6-6:30PM. Usually he eats well. If he fools around, and doesn't eat that much we remind him that we won't feed him later, dinner is the time to eat. Then he takes a bath, reads books/plays and then we get him in bed by 7:45- 8:15PM. He then rolls around, sings, talks to himself etc. and hollers, ''Mommy, I'm hungry, I want more food''. If the darn kid would just close his eyes and go to sleep, then he wouldn't be hungry again!

So far, we've fed him every time, but we're angry and resentful about it(not good). Has anyone else encountered this hunger situation? I don't want to feed him again b/c I'm being set up for a nightly ritual which I might not be able to control/want. It also re-starts the whole night time process, when he eats again, brush teeth, calms down and it's almost 9:30/10:00 PM! Also, we live in a small house, so when our boy screams hunger he wakes up the baby, and we are faced with putting both back to sleep.

How do I stop this manipulative behavior FAST? MBM

BE STRONG!! It really sounds to me like your kid is just trying to prolong his bedtime and he knows what button to push with you -- the ''I'm hungry'' one. Tell him in advance that there will be NO more bedtime snacks/meals. The thing you should know is that by this time (after a few days of eating at 8:30 pm), his tummy is getting used to eating at that time of day... so by this point, his blood sugar is probably dropping a bit at that time and he really and truly is feeling hungry. However, he does not actually need food (you did feed him dinner!) and after a few days of not eating at bedtime, he'll be back to not actually being hungry... though he might play that ''I'm hungry'' card again, so I repeat: BE STONG! :)
I have this issue sometimes. My brother in law is staying with us and a few weeks ago, as my 3.5 y.o. daughter was upstairs calling, I'm hungry'' I was asking him about this, is this manipulative behavior, etc. She is my first born and he said, ''you know, who knows. When your second gets to be her age, you may be able to say, hey, she is still a baby. She doesn't have the same control, and perhaps she is not old enough to eat when she is supposed to. So maybe with the second you will simply give her a little cream cheese sandwich and brush her teeth extra good in the a.m.'' We went on to discuss how with the first born you expect them to be older in some ways, forgetting really, how young they still are in the scope of things. Well, I was really touched by this conversation. Since then I have made less of a big deal over this and oddly, since I huff and puff less when she asks, she has almost stopped doing it. sign me- letting go a bit
We had a little trouble with this with our almost-3-yr-old. I think it started because she truly was hungry after not eating well at dinner. So as you did, i focused more on making sure she ate well. If she still didn't, I offered a snack before bed -- things that seemed filling: bananas, graham crackers, milk. If she started asking to eat, but i knew she had eaten well, I told her no, that she could have a bottle of milk, but that was it. If she didn't drink it, I told her she must not be hungry. The antics seem to have stopped (knock on wood.) Good luck.(PS: my feeling is, if they occasionally don't brush their teeth before bed, it's not the end of the world.) mary
''How do I stop this manipulative behavior FAST?''

Stop giving in to it! You recognize it as manipulative. He's just found a button of yours that works when he pushes it. You can't stand the thought of sending him to bed hungry, yet you recognize both that dinner is the time to eat, and that he does eat at dinner.

With my son it was the two, three and four drinks of water after bedtime (complete with plaintive yells, ''but I'm THIRSSSSTY!'') until finally I said, ''One drink after toothbrushing'' and no more. Now he never asks and rarely drinks even his one drink. virginia

I suspect you'll get lots of ideas on general bedtime routine stuff, but we, too, had the ''hunger'' excuse. What worked for us (most of the time) was to not challenge whether he was really hungry or not, but to start bed-time a little earlier, with the first item (before toothbrush, story, etc) being ''do you need anything else to eat or drink before you go to bed?''. This way, you are giving him the opportunity to meet his needs (as HE sees them), without having to argue about whether he could actually be hungry after such a good dinner, etc. Of course, it is up to you to decide what healthy foods to offer. Now I can't guarantee he won't come up with another stall, but this should take care of the hunger/thirst excuse (or need). R.K.
hi--i don't have a way out for you, but i can tell you that our daughter started the same thing at about 3.5. she now always wants a bedtime snack, whether or not she ate a lot of food at dinner. instead of fighting it, we've given in somewhat gracefully. we brush and floss right before bed and then she has a choice between apples, cheese, nuts, and occasionally baby carrots... the thing is, she goes through growth spurts at unpredicatable times these days, and we figure that if she is really hungry at bedtime, she should eat (and she does!). she eats in bed (ugh, i know) as we read bedtime stories, and has to finish before the stories are up, so she doesn't sit there eating to procrastinate against sleep... so my advice would be to give in, make a few guidelines that make you comfortable, and then make sure the snack choices are at least super-healthy! anon
I am still pregnant with our second child and so cannot comment on the possible issue of sibling rivalry. However, I can speak to the experience of a 3.5 year old wanting a post-dinner meal, but only after having skipped dinner. My 3.5 year old daughter has, on occasion, COMPLETELY skipped her dinner meal, either because she simply wasn't hungry or was too busy playing. Our general rule of thumb is that she is invited to eat with us at the table until we are done eating. Since dinner is just as much a social event as it is a fortifying one, she is made to play by herself until mom and dad are done eating. Being the attention monger that she is, this rule usually lures her back to the table to take a few (more) bites.

We pretty consistently offer a variety of foods in an attempt to avoid a wholesale rejection of the meal, including NUTRITIOUS sides that we know for a fact that she enjoys, such as garbanzo beans, apples, oranges, and cheese. Although we do not include these extras on our own dinner plate, it takes all of two or three minutes to prepare. Right or wrong, no matter how well or how little she eats at dinner time, we always offer her the choice of dessert, even if it's the same apple she refused to eat at dinnertime.

On the few occasions in which she has asked for yet another meal after already tossing in bed for awhile, we regretfully inform her of two things: (1) that the next meal is breakfast, and (2) that it is our job as parents to make sure she eats nutritiously and on a healthy schedule. Of course, this meets with resistance, but consistency on our part has convinced her that a post-dinner meal will simply not be a part of her routine. It sounds from your message that even though you have reminded your son that another meal is not forthcoming, his ''antics'' have unfortunately been rewarded with, ahh, another meal. As *mean* as you feel and as unhappy as your son gets when you refuse him this last supper, my guess is that after a week or two of really holding your ground, this issue will be resolved. This message assumes that your son eats enough good foods to reasonably tide him over until breakfast. Good luck, and happy dining! planetgrrl

My 3.5 year old is very similar to yours. I think our son's requests for food are probably a stall tactic so we try to offer healthy bedtime snacks prior to brushing. Then he is read to, sung to etc. for about a half hour before we leave his room. Any requests after that are turned-down, and he knows that we mean business and that he must stay in bed and read to himself. We haven't encountered nightime wake-ups requesting food, but if I did I would probably offer him bread or crackers with water to fill his stomach and not leave lots of sugary residue on his teeth. Maybe your dentist could recommend something else? Courtney
My daughter used to do the same thing. I suspected it was simply an excuse to stay awake a while longer and get my attention. However, just in case she was hungry, I gave her food---raw broccoli, carrots or green beens. It was great because often she would eat them--- which gave her a taste for raw veggies, and when she actually wasn't hungry she would not.

Once she realized that at bed time only vegitables and water could be eaten--- I told her it was bad for her teeth to eat anything else--- she eventually stopped asking for food.

Now I make sure to take her to the bathroom and give her water before taking her to bed, in order to get rid of any other excuses to stay up later.

Good luck! MB

My son, and then my daughter, did the same. What I found was that they actually WERE hungry, as evidenced by their ability to eat. Having read that cheddar cheese does not contribute to tooth decay, and may actually help remineralize teeth, we made a new rule: when the children are in bed, and have been lying quietly for ten minutes, one of us will bring them some cheddar cheese. Sometimes, when they are really hungry, they specify, ''several, big pieces,'' other times it's just a symbolic scrap. I won't say this has solved all our bedtime problems, but it has certainly helped a great deal. sign me ''It's the cheese!''
Thus far he probably doesn't believe you when you say, at dinner, that you won't feed him later, because you always do. Perhaps you could offer him a small snack (e.g. crackers and a glass of milk) right before you brush his teeth the first time, If he eats, he's had a snack and is not hungry; if he doesn't eat, he wasn't hungry in the first place. Either way, when he yells out later that he's hungry, you can tell him that no, you will not feed him, and then stick to your guns with a clear conscience. It will probably require ignoring him while he yells for a few nights, but if you are consistent, he will probably get over it pretty quickly. anonymous
How to stop this behavior, which may or may not be ''manipulative''? How about a later dinnertime? Or a post- dinner snack *before* he brushes his teeth? Does he have access to water by his bedside? (A sport bottle of water next to the bed has been helpful for a great many of my mommy friends. Of course, it can become a potty training problem, but it does help with those late night pleas for drink or food.)

I suspect we've all been in the position of muttering through our teeth, ''why won't you just go to SLEEP ALREADY!?'' but as I'm sure you know this isn't very productive. Clearly something about your evening routine isn't working for your son, and what he seems to want now isn't working for you, so work on finding some middle ground. Incidentally, if he's well-rested on the nights he doesn't get to sleep until 10 p.m., maybe you could aim for a somewhat later bedtime as well -- not as late as 10, but not as early as 8. Holly

You stop this behavior by not giving in to it. If he says he's hungry, you tell him breakfast is in about 9 (or whatever) hours. Being hungry for a few hours won't hurt him, but the manipulation and angry feelings it arouses will hurt your relationship. My younger (also spirited) daughter also takes a long time to wind down in the evening after I've put her to bed, but I've taught her that if she gets hungry she just has to wait until breakfast. She can come out to get a drink of water, which she can do by herself without disturbing the rest of the family, and that sometimes helps her feel not quite so empty. Of course if she drinks too much water then she has to go to the bathroom again ... but she can also do that by herself. These spirited kids (active, intense) can have a real hard time letting go of the rest of the world at the end of the day, but I firmly believe they need to learn how, and parents can be a big help by setting a firm bedtime & having firm bedtime rules. Melinda
Your child is more advanced than mine is - mine didn't start pulling this until he was about 3 1/2. We have the same dinner schedule and he was doing the SAME thing, except wailing plaintively ''I'm hungry.'' I felt like Oliver Twist's mother (if that makes sense.) My solution is to tell him he can have a slice of bread and some milk or water, sitting in bed. I figure if he's really hungry he will chow down on that. So far what he's done is taken a bite or two and a swallow of water and that's that. Since I stopped fixing him turkey sandwiches at 8:30 he's eating a better breakfast, too. Fran
Before thinking about how to solve this problem, I would encourage you to try to connect with your son around what may be the underlying cause of his behavior. I'd worry that finding a solution without understanding the problem would not meet either of your needs!

I'm concerned about thinking of his behavior as manipulation, because I know I get angry any time I think someone is manipulating me! I'd rather think of what's going on without getting angry, so I'd try to look for his feelings and needs. Is he still alert and feeling antsy, and needing more outlet for his energy? Is he anxious because he wants more companionship or attention? Is he scared around sleep and needs some connection and reassurance? Is he excited about life and wanting to express his enthusiasm more? Depending on which it is (and it could be many more), I would try to find a way to connect with him around his need and try to meet it EARLIER, or adjust the bedtime ritual to leave time for connection.

I would also encourage you to pay attention to your own feelings and needs. ''Bed time'' is a strategy which I imagine you set to meet some needs of yours - rest for yourself, sufficient rest for your child so you enjoy your day the next day, time to attend to household activities, time for conneciton with your spouse - and maybe others. You may want to express to your son your frustration with this situation and your need for support around getting these other needs of yours met. I believe children are much more responsive to hearing their parents' (or anyone's) underlying needs than they are to rules and regulartions (which seem to me to be made to be broken).

If you want more information about the connection process I'm talking about here (it's called ''Nonviolent Communication''), you can email me or check our web site at and

I hope all of you get your needs met more to your satisfaciton! Inbal

WOW -- have you been set up, or what?! It is time to sit your child down (before he gets into the bedtime antics, like first thing in the am) and tell him, ''We have a new rule in this house. When we sit down to dinner, it is time to eat. If you choose not to eat, there is no more food for the rest of the night. It is really important that you eat a good dinner so that you are not hungry later, because starting today, there is no food after dinner.'' Then, FOLLOW THROUGH! He is 3 1/2 -- he will not starve, even if he goofs off during dinner and doesn't eat. Before dinner, you remind him again of the rule. When you are brushing his teeth, you remind him again of the rule and TELL HIM that even if he asks, there will be no more food -- it is bedtime. When he gets into bed, he will ask. Walk in once, remind him of the rule, then say, ''It's time to sleep now. If I have to come back, it will be to close the door (or whatever).'' Then FOLLOW THROUGH. He may be indignant and protest for a night or two, but you need to stand firm and NOT give in. He will not starve. This behavior needs to stop so you all get some down time -- he's got you wrapped around his finger! Be strong! Good luck -- Been there, done that!
I'm also the mother of a 3.5 years old and from speaking to friends around with kids the same age, it seems that many kids this age are going into a phase of bedtime/ sleep change. Our daughter who never slept in our bed and always had great nights started to wake up at the most insane times and come to our beds sometimes 3 times a night (I always put her back in her own bed). She also came up with things like wanting light in her room, insist on having the door open and other strange rituals. I give up with what I think is reasonnable (the door slightly open) but stay firm on the others. Regarding your food problem, it seems that he wants to get some control over his daily routine, maybe you can give him something like a small bowl of dry cheerios and a glass of water at around 7h30 telling him it is all he gets for his bedtime snack, then brush his teeth and go on with his bedtime routine so he's in bed by 8pm. Valerie

Videos for 4-year-old before bedtime?

May 2004

I have been thinking of linking the ''prize'' of being able to watch one hour of videos (taped 1/2 hour TV shows) before bedtime 4-5 nights a week with making my child start taking on limited chores. This would involve cleaning up toys at the end of the day, putting back clothes they have literally walked out of, and getting dressed for bed. I worry that she will not do these chores in the future without the carrot at the end of the stick. But I also would like to kickstart regular chores over the summer. Am I going down the wrong track here? I am so tired by her bedtime with all of the nagging, that a little peace would be welcome. I also am asking whether watching shows a half-hour before bedtime has any stimulating consequences. I would be basically switching the time of video-watching from 5- 6pm to 7-8pm (bedtime is 8:30-9:00pm).

Please don't put videos or TV into a bedtime routine. Take the time to read or tell stories to your child. Think about what the TV (including ads) is imprinting, besides it being stimulating. Your child should have quiet time before bed. Get the chores going before your child (or you) are too tired to bother with them. Why give a reward for chores? You're right, because where does the rewarding stop? I'm in the no-TV and no video camp for yound children especially. Read the literature about how TV affects your children and then think again about what rituals you want to establish. Been there
I would recommend against the TV before bedtime because I have found it to be a problem in the past with my four year old. On the rare occasions on the weekends that I let her stay up to watch a movie with me, she tends to get over emotional and over stimulated. It is actually harder (believe it or not) to put her down. I would advise you to get your child accustomed to chapter books instead. We started with Junie B. Jones and then moved to James and the Giant Peach, then came Charlie and the Chocolate factory, Charlotte's Webb, and we are now about to finish Ella Enachanted. It is great, not just for her but for me too, because I look forward to it as much as she does, and I feel proud to be contributing to her love of books. I have also noticed that her attention span is increasing. When we first started it was hard for her to listen to three pages (ave. lenght of a chapter in James and the Giant peach), but now we can read for an hour and she wont want me to stop. The best part of it though is cuddling in bed before her bedtime, I think it calms her down and she gets the attention from me that she needs just before bed. Since we started the chapter books I have noticed it has been easier to get her into bed. Also now I ask her to put on her pajama's brush, her teeth, and get ready for bed before we begin to read, and i remind her that the longer she takes the less time we'll have to read (she sees this as a horrible thing!). I will also ask her to clean up her toys before she takes her bath. So it is: clean up toys, bath, she gets ready for bed (put on pajamas, brush teeth) and then we read. Good luck! loving books!

Bedtime Ritual for 7-year-old

Nov 2002

My 7 year old son has a hard time falling asleep at night; it can take him 45 min. And getting up in the morning is not easy for him. We have a regular bedtime routine which includes reading, but I am wondering if you have any ideas that will help ease any tension or anxieties so that he can relax more easily. Thanks for any suggestions! Jennifer

It's not uncommon to take 45 minutes to get to sleep, but here are a few ideas I tried for the same problem that worked. Try and give him dinner before 6.30pm. Make sure he has had enough liquids througout the day. Many children go to bed thirsty, and what they drink at school is never enough. Give him more water. Eliminate all sugar from his diet. Look at the ingredients in the drinks and yogurts etc. that you give him. Sugar will keep them wide awake. Make sure he gets enough physical excercise every day, about 2 hours outdoors. Read low-drama books before retiring. Keep to a schedule. Baths with essential oil of lavender help. I also give my kids chamomile tea throughout the evening. (Either Choice Organic from Natural Grocery Store, or loose leaf from Lhasa Kharnak on Shattuck. You can buy a Beehouse teapot in Andronicos or Peets which comes with inbuilt strainer. If you need it sweetened, buy Stevia, a herbal sweetener, also from Natural Grocery store.)Hope this helps. maura
Try rubbing his back. I did this for several years with my son (now late teens) when he ws young. He ws always hyper at bedtime even after being read to. So the routine was book, then 10 min.'s or so of back rub, which inevitably put him to sleep. joan
When I was very young -- probably around 8 or 9, I learned a little relaxation routine that I STILL use; it's very simple but very effective. You might have him try it if his problem is he can't relax. I imagine that I am a cloth doll, filled with sand, and that someone has poked a hole in my toes. I then imagine all of the sand slowly draining out of each body part, and that the result is that I am a floppy cloth doll with no sand in me. I find that the concreteness of this imagery makes it much more effective for me, even now, than just ''relax your feet, relax your legs, etc.'' I start with my toes, and I'm usually asleep by the time I reach my knees. Another thing that occurs to me as I write this: does your son get much exercise? I know for me the single most effective way to make sure I sleep well is to get exercise most days of the week. Just a thought... Karen
My 7-y-o has a bath every night, and that calms him down a lot. We've been on that ritual almost since the beginning, though, so it might not be an immediate fix for another child.

Another ritual, a big-R Ritual, is that after reading, we do ''blessings.'' He blesses all the people he loves (or who are on his mind that night). ''Blessed be Mom, blessed be Dad, blessed be Auntie Pat...'' etc. I don't know if it helps him to fall asleep, but I think it's important to get him into the habit of sending loving energy to the people he loves on a regular basis. Letitia

Bedtime for older kids 8 & 12

Oct 2003

I have always been a firm believer that kids should get to sleep at an early and reasonable hour, and that's the opinion I would give any parent asking for help in this issue.....untill my 2nd child came along and proved fully that he has his dad's night- owl genes. My boys are now 8 and 12 and it's really hard to get them to bed during the week at any reasonable time.(we're pretty lax on weekends). My 12 year old will usually turn in around 9 or 9;30 but then may stay up for an hour reading, claiming that he's just not sleepy. The 8 year old will dawdle and dawdle untill it is at least 9:30. Lights out for him are almost never till 10. I think this is way too late for school age children to be going to sleep. And aside from that, I need some quiet time without them in the evenings before my husband and I go to bed. I've tried starting to get them ready earlier, getting them up earlier....the pattern seems to be set. I'm hoping that with daylight savings time it might get a bit easier. Any tricks, suggestions, or are my children truely night people? eating my words

Maybe you can have a set time for when your kids need to be in their bedroom ready to sleep: pj's, teeth brushed, etc. Then let them determine when they actually turn out the lights and go to bed. They are old enough that there shouldn't be a safety issue, and that way there is not a fight about it. If they are having an issue getting up in the morning, then you enforce a ''lights out time''. It sounds like the younger one is enjoying the attention of the extra time after his brother is in his room. Explain to your kids that you need time for yourself and that is when you get it. Joan
If your kids aren't overly sleepy or cranky in the afternoons, they're just night owls and nothing you do is going to get them to sleep any earlier. They're old enough to understand that they must go to bed early enough to be well rested and get up in time for school, and they should be taking responsibility for that themselves. (Although you can certainly offer to help them by getting them alarm clocks or suggesting other aids.)

They're also old enough to understand that Mom and Dad need some time to themselves and that after 8 or 9 or whatever time you designate they are expected to stay in their rooms and read or do some other quiet activity, and not interrupt you except in an emergency. (I live for the day my son is old enough to get himself to sleep this way!)

Give up control of what time they actually turn out the lights and go to sleep and I suspect you'll all be a lot happier! A night owl whose kid goes to sleep at 10ish

Hmmmm. I would try first just after dinner homework (if they do it at night) for however long, then half an hour of reading time in bed so lights out would be 8:30 or so for the younger one and because twelve year olds have more homework, his would be maybe 9:30. If this doesn't work just let the telve year old go to bed at ten. It really seems okay. But for the little one give unlimited bedtime for a few days. He well get very tired and almost BEG to go to bed early. Anon