Sweet Dreams are Made of This:
How to Leave the Bedtime Battle at the Door
I am not sleeping in my own bed. EVER!”
“More milk. Bottle”
“I’ll scoot over and make room for you in the big bed.”
“Just 5 more minutes. PUH-LEEZE?”
“Waaaaaaaa!! Waaaaaaaaaa! Waaaaaaa!“
*sob* *sob* cough, choke, sob* *cough, choke, sob*
Does any of this sound familiar to you? It usually starts around 8 p.m. in our house: nite-nite time. It’s the end of a long day and you just want a peaceful evening with sleeping angels. At the first mention of bedtime, the song and dance starts night after night after night — only it ain’t the soundtrack from Mary Poppins – it’s the soundtrack of my unhappy children trying to buy a few more minutes of fun and play. For the record, I didn’t start my journey of parenthood with the idea that my children would sleep with me. It evolved into that, and I’m trying to undo it.
Are you with me here? Anyone? Anyone?
I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Alex Curtis-Boyer, international infant and toddler behavioral specialist, to discuss her tried and true methods of raising children with healthy sleep habits.
Alex started on her path as a Resources for Infant Educator (RIE) when she noticed the way her sister, the actress Jamie Lee Curtis (yes, THAT Jamie Lee Curtis), was talking to her young son: respectfully and on his level. Her own daughter was two years old at the time, so, inspired by Jamie Lee’s interaction with her son, Alex began a 10-day RIE training program. Over the years, Alex said she became more involved until she became an educator, fully certified under the teachings of Magda Gerber, founding director of RIE.
Alex was in Tulsa recently to give a presentation on Bedtime Battles, sponsored by Day Schools Oklahoma. I’m here to tell you, there is help out there!
Establish a Bedtime Routine
The best way to establish a bedtime routine is early in life. For those of us who weren’t so successful at establishing this during our children’s infancy, there is still hope. In fact, follow the same method with your toddler as you would with an infant:
1. Soft Signs: Recognize the signs your child is sleepy — glazed eyes, yawning, tugging at a blankie.
2. Set the Stage: bath, dim the lights, quiet time. Alex recommends a routine of not more than 30 minutes so that it doesn’t get dragged out.
3. Self Soothe: Your child has trust in the routine and learns to soothe himself.
The routine is important for 3 reasons:
1. Expectations: be clear and concise. “We expect you to sleep in your bed tonight.”
2. Builds Trust: The child lets go of the action and is a part of the routine.
3. Relationship: Your roles as parent and child are clearly defined and respectful of each other.
Positive Reinforcement is also useful when dealing with older children. The privilege of staying within the expectation of sleeping in his or her own bed could be a reward such as a sticker; 7 stickers might signal a trip to the ice cream shop or larger reward. The punishment of not working with the expectation would be no sticker to earn that trip for ice cream.
How to Respond if Your Child Protests
Now, what to do when your child retreats from the expectations? One father said his daughter would throw herself off her toddler bed and flail around like she was a fish out of the water for a good 30 minutes. He said it wore him down and he would give in. Sound familiar? It did to me.
Continue to go back to Positive Reinforcement. Say, “It’s not good for your sleep if I keep coming in here. I expect you to sleep in your bed.” And the next time, and the time after, and the time after — just think “Positive Reinforcement” in a calm, even tone.
Children will protest. After all, they are human and we all have the right to protest what we think is not fair, right? We have to remember that this garbage behavior isn’t our problem. We can go back to Positive Reinforcement in our calm, even tone and soon the child will realize that Mama (or Papa) don’t roll like this.
Keep Your Routine Simple
Another helpful hint from Alex was to pack your routine in a suitcase. In other words, keep it simple so that if your child visits grandma for the night, the routine is easy to replicate elsewhere.
Is This Working for Me?
So, some of you may be asking: Is this working in my family? Well, yes….and no.
Evan has been pretty easy. His soft signs are going to the refrigerator for a drink and grabbing his blankie out of the cabinet. He crawls up on a lap —- whoever seems warmest and softest at the time. He enjoys his nightcap and just as he is about to fall asleep, he is transferred to his crib. Now, he does wake up maybe twice a week and needs some reassurance but, all in all, our expectation of him sleeping all night, in his own space, is working.
Hayden is a little different story. His soft sign consists of telling me he is tired and wants to go sleep. Only, what he really means is he wants to cuddle, watch one (or three) more shows and then fall asleep in my bed.
Therefore, our expectation starts earlier with him — like when I pick him up from school. “Hayden, we expect you to sleep in your own bed tonight. When the sun is shining, you may come snuggle with us.” He hears it. He repeats it. He gets it. He. Doesn’t. Do. It. We go back to Positive Reinforcement. We go back to the privilege (stickers= ice cream). We go back to punishment (no stickers= no ice cream). We go back to class.
The best gift that Alex gave me was reassurance that I haven’t “ruined” my children.
They will grow to be productive, self-confident, healthy citizens. As I keep using her method, I do see a difference and, believe me, you will as well. One out of two isn’t bad, so I consider myself a success story.
Until next time–sweet dreams!