"Keys to bedtime sanity: PLAN. PREPARE."
Here's the story.
We were having big issues with Chickie going to bed. She was turning on her light to play or read; finding excuses to bring us back into her room; and throwing tantrums if we didn't bow to her every whim. In case you haven't figured it out from reading my posts, bowing to every one of my children's whims isn't my parenting style.
It all came to a head Wednesday night, when Chickie had a meltdown of disastrous proportions. We're talking screaming, crying, trembling, and plenty of incoherent demands. She successfully got The Engineer and me to come back into her room several times, despite our threats and consequences. In the end, after about an hour of battle, Chickie (possibly) went to sleep for a few minutes, and then got up and ended up on her magic couch in our room. I felt like she'd somewhat won the battle, but in reality it was an immensely stressful situation for all three of us. Nobody won.
Believe it or not, by the next night, bedtime had turned around. Chickie went to sleep peacefully, without a tantrum and without repeated trips upstairs required by Mommy and Daddy. How did we make such a big change, so quickly?
It was beautifully simple. (I love when the complex business of parenting seems simple--occasionally!) It required two steps: PLAN and PREPARE.
I came up with a simple system of behavior and consequences. These are built specifically around what I know of my daughter, and what really drives a point home for her.
- Chickie is expected to stay in bed at bedtime. (We do usually let her have reading time before bed as a transition. But when reading time is over, it's over.)
- If Chickie gets out of bed, the baby gate in her doorway will be closed. She doesn't like this.
- If Chickie either kicks the gate down (an issue we've had) or throws a fit, her door will be closed. And it will be closed for a long time. She really doesn't like this.
All day on Thursday, I prepared Chickie by making the plan very, very clear to her.
- As soon as she got up, I clearly laid out the plan to her.
- Repeatedly throughout the day I reminded her of the plan.
- I encouraged her to explain the plan to her stuffed animals, which she did, with some coaching from me.
- I reminded her of the plan again at bedtime.
Interestingly, the consequences in the plan are the same ones we were implementing on the nights when Chickie was testing us and throwing fits. But in the height of her emotion, she did not have the self control to stop the fit, even knowing the consequences. And let's be honest--The Engineer and I were giving her positive reinforcement by coming back to her room over and over. Having a plan, and thoroughly preparing Chickie for its implementation, has helped prevent all of us from being overwhelmed by the negative emotions associated with bedtime battles.
We'll probably have more testing in this area as time goes by. But for now, we have bedtime sanity, and it's a beautiful thing.