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'Bedtime bank': one way to quiet young night owls

Twenty minutes after putting my children to bed, I often heard my six-year-old son, Oliver, say, "Mom, I want something to drink," or "Mom, I left my blanket downstairs."

My five-year-old daughter, Diana, would then join in with "Mom, I want to tell you something." Other nights they played an assortment of after-bedtime games. These late nights, although great excitement for the children, were frustrating for me. They were also followed by late mornings that required extra prodding to wake up the children to get them ready for school.

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My husband and I had tried any number of ways to induce the children to go to sleep -- warm baths just before bed, bedtime stories, friendly and not-so-friendly persuasion, and even spankings when nothing else worked. None of these efforts was successful for very long, but after some experimentation we think we have now found a solution.

We developed a system we call the "bedtime-bank," and here is how it works: Each night that a child settles down and goes to sleep when he is expected to, he "earns" 10 minutes. He can then save the time he has earned during the week and spend it on weekend nights.

For example, if Diana has earned 10 minutes on each of six nights, she can spend the time by staying up an hour past her regular bedtime on a Friday or Saturday night. This bedtime bank does not yet pay interest on savings nor does it make loans, but we do keep a "bank book" (a small spiral notebook) for each child in which I record the time each has earned and spent. Although a few weeks were required for the children to learn how the system works, the only effort required now is a minute of bookkeeping daily.

The system has provided some interesting insight into our children's earning, saving, and spending behaviors. Oliver and Diana are equally enthusiastic about earning their time, but they have very different ways of saving and spending it. Oliver is a spender -- even if he has only ten minutes to his credit, he will spend them at the first opportunity. Diana, on the other hand, is a saver and has now accumulated five hours. Often, when she has an option to spend some of her time, she will instead hurry up to bed so that no time will be charged against her "account." She also delights in telling her brother that if she wanted to, she could spend four of her hours and stay up past midnight.

After using the bedtime bank for almost a year, we find that, although there are times which are exceptions, both parents and children have benefited. Now, instead of the late nights and late mornings, bedtime is more orderly and the children wake up well-rested, often before I would normally awaken them.

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