Understanding (or Muddling Through?) Our Bedtime Battles

We’re still having our bedtime struggles with N — though not as lengthy and heated as they were a few weeks ago, when one night we put her back to bed a whopping 78 times over the course of two very long hours (which, in a befuddled and bleary-eyed state, I chronicled in “Bedtime Battles II — or, 78’s the Charm!“).

Since then, we’ve implemented some changes that have helped restore at least a little sanity back to bedtime.  For example, when we noticed that she was enthralled by the Nutcracker Christmas story, we allowed her to keep the book in her bed after lights out.   She  looks at the pictures by the glow of her night light, especially while wearing a flannel nightgown that looks like Maria’s in the book.  Also, we re-discovered an old CD of children’s Christmas songs — all very quiet and soothing — which N loves to listen to at bedtime.  These tools help keep N in her bed and shorten the time it takes for her to fall asleep from two hours to one.  Not ideal, but definitely an improvement.

But we still encounter rough spots.  Usually after about 45 minutes, N still gets up out of bed several times.  For a while, we were trying the Positive Discipline method in which we kindly but firmly put her back to bed without saying a word, as many times as it takes — but over the past several days our responses have slipped back into old habits.  N simply does not seem to stay in bed until we get upset with her, something G and I really dislike doing.  The last thing we want to do at the end of a long, tiring work day is yell at our sweet, otherwise well-behaved daughter. 

I’ve been mulling over the situation in my head, trying to understand why she’s misbehaving — and what about our approach we need to change if we want to stop the nightly yelling routine.

I think part of the solution lies in getting her to bed earlier — a goal that is extremely difficult for two working parents to do.  But we have to try for an earlier bedtime, or our interactions devolve into us yelling at an extremely silly, giggly girl whose arms and legs mysteriously turn into jelly, and who won’t listen to anything we have to say. 

But I still want to understand the dynamics better, so tonight I went back to Dr. Nelson’s Positive Discipline book.  She describes misbehavior as a “code” that kids are sending us about how they’re feeling.  I think N’s behavior at night (not as noticeably during the day) matches up with two underlying messages described in the book:  first, she gets out of bed because she hasn’t had our attention for a while.  She’s bored and wants to engage with us.  This seems to be verified by N herself; when I ask N why she’s getting out of bed, she either says, “Because I’m having too much fun!” or “I don’t want to be lonely.” 

Tonight I had an idea — maybe next time she gets up out of bed, I’ll try reassuring her that we’ll have lots of fun together tomorrow, and have her think of something fun she’d like to do during special time with mommy and daddy.

Usually after N has been out of bed several times and we react by getting upset, she either stays put, clearly distraught by our displeasure, or she laughs and seems to think it’s the greatest game.  When it’s the latter, the situation becomes a power struggle, which thrills her because she gets to feel like she’s in control. 

Tonight I got the chance to implement a solution, borrowing from advice in Dr. Nelson’s book.  I interrupted a heated battle to calmly ask her what would help her go to sleep.  She gave me her list:  her radio (which we had taken away because she kept getting out of bed); a cracker; her book; her dog Woofie; and mommy and daddy.  We helped her get everything on her list — including us, for two minutes.  Her list, and our willingness to respect it, gave her the feeling of being in control — NOT of everything, but just of her personal space and her bedtime.  After we left, she stayed in bed and went to sleep.   

It’s always interesting to me that many times, parenting dilemmas don’t have one right answer.  Sometimes it takes an amalgam of different ideas, tricks, approaches, and lucky breaks to finally understand and deal with a situation.  Other times, you feel as though you never really understand what’s going on — you simply muddle through until the phase ends (and a new problem begins).

I don’t know which track we’re on right now — understanding, muddling, or both.  But, as Dr. Nelson recently commented (as a response to my post, “No Rest for the Weary“), hopefully our family will get a good night’s sleep soon—”surely by the time she goes to college!”

About A Mom In Brooklyn

A mom in Brooklyn
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