Over the past few weeks, our bedtime battles with N have escalated from minor skirmishes to heated, lengthy engagements. Like the American rebels in the Revolutionary War, N has mastered the art of guerilla tactics — sneaking out of bed under the cover of darkness, hiding quietly at the top of the stairs and giggling like crazy when found by us — the weary, confused British soldiers on foreign soil, wondering what the heck is going on, and who is really in charge here–??
Okay, it’s not quite as dramatic as all that. But at times, it certainly does feel like a real battle getting N to stay in bed. Many nights, it lasts two hours — from the time we put her to bed at 8:00pm until 10:00pm, she is constantly getting out of bed, no matter how many times we put her back or scold her. During that time she only grows more over-tired, which makes her act sillier and sillier until finally she’s giggling uncontrollably, no matter what we say or do.
As parents, one of our top priorities for N’s health is making sure she gets enough sleep every day, so her nighttime antics — which only seem to be getting worse — are causing us lots of anxiety. We still haven’t found a good solution for dealing with it. Usually we start out “nice” and “patient”–i.e., speaking in soft tones about how she needs rest so she can have energy to play the next day; thinking up imaginary stories and encouraging to close her eyes and continue the story in her head; helping her with breathing and counting exercises; etc., etc. When that doesn’t work (and it never does), we get “stern”–basically, we put her back into bed without saying much of anything. And when that doesn’t work (and it never does), we get so fed up and desperate that we finally get “angry,”–yelling, pointing fingers, generally doing things we feel pretty bad about later. Nothing works until her own little body finally gives out due to sheer exhaustion.
I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner, but last night I finally took out my copy of Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson. I do like Dr. Nelson’s methods — for daytime problems, anyway. Her basic philosophy is that it’s possible to discipline (her definition of “discipline” is closer to the original root meaning of the word, “to teach”) children using kindness and firmness rather than punishment and making kids feel bad about themselves. My husband and I basically subscribe to her approach and practice it most of the time — though I will admit that sometimes it’s very tough to do.
In Positive Discipline for Preschoolers Dr. Nelson devotes a chapter to “Ending Bedtime Battles.” She urges parents to establish bedtime routines, which we’ve already done. Then she gets to a discussion of “Testing Time” — when your child gets up out of bed. She advises kindly and firmly putting the child back in bed with a kiss, without saying anything. She says to repeat this process calmly “as many times as it takes,” and ultimately the child “will get the idea that she can count on you to mean what you say–and she can count on you to treat her with dignity and respect even when she is testing you.” Dr. Nelson says to “summon all your patience” and that the testing usually does not last for longer than 3-5 nights. She shared a story of a mother whose daughter was put back to bed 24 times the first night; the second night, 12 times; and the third night, only 2 times. By the fourth night, the kiddo was in bed just as she should be.
So G and I decided to try Dr. Nelson’s method last night. For fun, we thought we’d count the number of times it took for N to “get the idea.”
Oh yes, I put it in the title of this post. 78 times. That is how many times N got up out of bed and we had to calmly, kindly, firmly, patiently put her back to bed with a kiss.
G handled the first 50 times, then I relieved him. We kept our mouths shut most of the time, except to give each other updates in a low voice over the monitor as we walked past: “28,” “56,” “71,” etc.
Soooo, Dr. Nelson — we’ll try this kind, firm, patient approach for 3-5 nights. We’re also making sure we stick to bedtime routines, helping her get enough activity during the day to wear her out, and moving her bedtime up to 7:30pm. If it works, you may have a new record to put in your book!!
If not…um…what happened to those Brits again??