No Rest for the Weary

Well, we’re on night #4 of Operation Bedtime, implementing the Positive Discipline approach in a (somewhat desperate) attempt to train N to stay in her bed, once and for all. It’s a simple theory: every time she gets out of bed, we’re supposed to kindly but firmly put her back into bed — no words or interaction, just a kiss on the forehead.

According to the method’s author, Dr. Jane Nelson, it takes 3-5 nights to sink in — i.e., for the kiddo to realize that every single time she experiments by getting out of bed, the result will be the same — Mom and Dad will be standing guard outside her door, waiting to scoop her up and carry her back to bed.

On the first night we tried it, N got out of bed (and we calmly, firmly put her back into bed) a total of 78 times — as if this was a fun new game — until she (and we!) were so exhausted that sleep finally came on its own.

On the second night, we were thrown for a loop. Before we could begin implementing the method, N deployed her tried-and-true delay tactics: cries of “I have to go to the potty,” which turned out to be fake; imploring us to turn on the light because she’s afraid of the dark (which also conveniently allows her to easily navigate her room, picking up books and toys to bring to bed with her); and even the classic hysterical fit in which she screams, “I don’t want to be alone! I need someone to stay with me!”. Once we finally quieted her down enough to start the method, it was way past her bedtime. We chased her back into bed a mere 25 times before she finally fell asleep.

We were feeling tentatively positive about our progress — until night #3. We both came home from work exhausted and hungry, but had to take shifts standing guard outside N’s door while the other ate dinner. By the time 10:00pm rolled around, we had put her to bed a total of 44 times.

Throughout the process, N has expressed curiosity about the method. A couple of times she asked me, “Mama, are you starting to get upset?” to which I replied with a Nelson-approved kind but firm “no,” and a kiss on the forehead.

Another time, N was chattering away happily while I put her back to bed silently. She asked, “Mama, did you lose your voice?”

Now we believe we have completed night #4 — tonight’s tally was 27, bringing our back-to-bed grand total to 174.

Overall, the method seems to be working — though I have to admit that I’m skeptical we’ll be done by tomorrow, night #5.

What Dr. Nelson doesn’t mention is that there can be unintended consequences of methods like this. Last night, N woke up at 1:30am and came and crawled into bed with us for the first time ever. We were caught off-guard and weren’t sure how to respond. She just looked so darn cute that we couldn’t bear to haul her back, so we let her stay. In the light of day, it’s clear that this could send a mixed message: stay in bed at bedtime, but it’s okay to get up out of bed in the middle of the night — huh?

N was cute in our bed until 5:30 this morning, when she woke us up by grumpily complaining that we messed up her blanket and to stop touching her. We put her back in her bed, but she was up and so were we.

So tonight we are one tired family. But I have to keep believing that soon we will get a handle on the sleep issues that seem to be multiplying daily. If Dr. Nelson’s method works I may erect a small shrine to her in my living room.

If not, then maybe there’ s a silver lining to standing guard outside her door: that’s how I wrote this blog post (with the help of my iPad)!


About A Mom In Brooklyn

A mom in Brooklyn
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8 Responses to No Rest for the Weary

  1. A Dad in the UK says:

    “Stay On Target” as the X-wing fighters were instructed in the Death Star Trench run…

    Seriously though, if she’s varying her tactics, it means the message is getting through – in the process of getting them out of certain behaviours, a ramping up of the unwanted behaviour, and/or trying of new tactics is to be expected and doesn’t mean you should alter your approach.

    Sorry if that’s a bit preachy – kudos for sticking with it, it’ll help her (and you guys!) in the long run…

    Good luck!


    • Thanks, UK Dad! I think you are 100% right — she is testing ALL the boundaries to see what will happen. It does seem that our consistency is paying off (albeit slowly) — we’re down from 78 times to 27 — so hopefully soon the new “game” will get boring, and she’ll start staying in bed like she’s supposed to.

      Still have to figure out how to help her wind down though — even though she’s not getting up as many times, she still has a lot of energy at bedtime and it takes her 1 1/2 to 2 hours to go to sleep.

      Thanks for the comments — and the luck — we sure need it! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Is she still napping? If you think she still has so much energy at bedtime, maybe it’s time to shorten her naps?? N was always such a great sleeper, I’m shocked to hear this, but she is three and testing boundries comes with the territory!! Hugs and Kisses to my favorite girl!
    Good Luck….See all of you soon!

    • You’re right, she has always been a good sleeper — we were shocked too! But the behavior has settled down a little now. We’re shortening her afternoon nap to 45 mins-1 hour and putting her to bed earlier. Also, she likes taking a book to bed, which seems to help her calm down.

      Thanks for the comment — we will see you soon I’m sure!

  3. Jane Nelsen says:

    Hi Mom in Brooklyn, I don’t want a shrine, but you might soon be able to pat yourself on the back. 🙂 I’m not sure what to tell you because it is difficult to know all that is going on. I did write “usually.” Nothing works all the time with every child. You do give me some clues when you say, “she was so darn cut.” I can also tell that she is VERY intelligent and knows how to work the system. If I get a chance to revise that passage on the bedtime routine, I will point out that the parent’s attitude is key. Kids know when you mean it and they know when you don’t. They know when they can “make it a game” and when they can’t. Most of all I want to point out that what I say is not “gospel.” Just suggestions and possibilities that are effective when parents understand the “principles” behind the suggestions. Principles can be followed in many different ways. I suggest you listen to my podcast on “Weaning from the Passy” to hear how one mother followed “principles” of Positive Discipline and used her own wisdom about how to implement. Wishing you good nights sleep soon—and surely by the time she goes to college. 🙂

    • Dr. Nelson, thanks so much for the comment. I was surprised (and impressed!) to see your responsiveness to the blog post.

      Our bedtime skirmishes aren’t quite as lengthy and heated as they were a few weeks ago. We are still using the Positive Discipline method (kindly and firmly putting her back to bed when she gets out), but with a twist: after N gets out of bed for the dozen-th time or so, we (kindly but firmly) tell her we are starting to get upset, and she needs to stay in bed if she doesn’t want us to be upset. We don’t get angry, but we show our displeasure. That is truly the only thing that works to keep her in bed.

      We also discovered a trick to keeping her in bed: we let her keep a couple of books with her, and put on a CD with soft music. Instead of taking two hours to go to sleep, it takes one hour — not ideal, but it’s a start.

      Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we adjusted her sleep schedule, moving her nap and bedtime earlier, which seems to be a better routine. Now she’s not so over-tired when we put her to bed, which makes our interactions a bit calmer after the lights are out.

      My husband and I continue to follow the Positive Discipline approach during the day, as well as at night — with our own little “tweaks.” All in all, I think we’re doing pretty good (until the next transition or phase, anyway!) 🙂

      Thanks again!
      A Mom in Brooklyn

  4. Pingback: Understanding (or Muddling Through?) Our Bedtime Battles « A Mom In Brooklyn

  5. Pingback: No More Bedtime Battles (for now) « A Mom In Brooklyn

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