Sunday, May 31, 2009

Keys to bedtime sanity

Yesterday my six words for Six Word Saturday were,

"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.
I've continued to go over the plan with Chickie, multiple times a day, every day. She gets it. And it's worked like magic (which is truly amazing since so many of my parenting tactics don't work. This is a trial and error business!)

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.


Eternal Lizdom said...

I know you've been reading the posts I've been doing on discipline, too. And this is a big key in those steps- clearly and reasonably explaining opportunities and responsibility and choices and consequences. I know how that night without a fit feels- such relief!

Call Me Cate said...

So glad it seems to be working. I'd have to imagine in some ways this age is both easier and harder. She seems to be asserting her will a lot more but also able to grasp the idea of actions and consequences.

Dani said...

I'll have to try the baby gate thing. My little 2-yr-old boy always gets up multiple times now at bedtime. He could climb out of his crib, so to keep him out of danger from falling, we transitioned to a toddler bed, but it's been a couple weeks and it seems his getting up multiple times and us laying him back down has become part of his bedtime routine. He can open his door now- so that doesn't help at all to simply close the door. But I rarely use the baby gate, so I don't think he'll figure it out very fast. I think what may happen when I use it, though, is a tantrum or he may go to sleep on the floor by the gate... I have tried explaining it to him. I think he understands but it's hard to tell because he doesn't talk in sentences yet at all. Just one word things still. It's definitely a challenge.

Unknown said...

Congratulations on getting down a routine and a plan that works for y'all!!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Good work, Mommy and Daddy. :)

C. Beth said...


I doubt you're reading these comments, but in case you are--

If you continue to post daily spam comments with links to who-knows-what, I will have to turn on word verification again, and if that doesn't work, I'll have to (shudder) start moderating comments again. That would be a huge pain for me. Considering I'm deleting your comments as soon as I see them (which is QUICKLY), I think it would serve all of us best if you stopped posting them.

This is especially important as it's BOTH of my blogs you persist in spamming. It's really rude, and I'm getting angry.

Thank you.

-C. Beth

Janna said...

Hi Beth,

My friend was just having problems with her 3 year old and since my girl is one I didn't have much advice to give her. I emailed your post to her and hopefully it will help.

I agree. God made you the parent b/c you know what's best not the child so good job not giving in

DIane S said...

Three year olds. They're challenging aren't they? This is a great post for me. Thank you. I think we need to be better about explaining expectations to our two.