Monday, July 16, 2007

How to Get Your Kids to Go To Bed (with minimal tears and anxiety) (yours and theirs): A Public Service Announcement from WG

This is for my good friend Meghan, but it was too long to post in her comments.

Back in the day when Mr. WG and I were new parents, hopelessly in love with Z., she ran the house. I mean, she totally set the schedule, the pace for the day, the menu – what Z. wanted, Z. got. She was the first grandchild on both sides, so the gifts flowed steadily, and I stayed home with her and worked part-time online, so She really could just tell us what she wanted to do, and we did it.

In the evenings, I would hold her and nurse her and rock her until she fell asleep, and then I would gently lower her into my bed. She would wake and cry, and I would begin the cycle again. Eventually, Mr. WG would come to bed, and Z. would sleep peacefully on Mr. WG’s chest.

When S. joined us some time later, we continued this pattern, only now it was S. sleeping on Mr. WG’s chest Z stayed up watching TV with us in the evenings until she fell asleep, and we placed her gently in our bed to sleep between us. All was right with the world.

When I got pregnant with D., I got a little nervous. S. had this habit of not falling asleep until, like 10 p.m. It was seriously infringing on my TV time, because Girlfriend could SCREAM. (Still can.) And so, out of desperation was born The Great Universal Bedtime Act of 2003. At the time, Z. was four and S. was nearly three.

The Universal Bedtime was determined to be 7:30 p.m. The girls were told that they could sleep in our bed IF they stayed in bed when placed there. For the first week, I sat with them for a bit, but I left before they fell asleep. At the same time, we created The Bedtime Routine: bath, jammies, story on the sofa, story in the bed. I think that at one point we also used a tape player and music, but we stopped because they didn’t like that they couldn’t have it on Shabbat.

The first week or so was tough, because as soon as I left the room, someone followed me. The trick is to just pick up the offender and put her back in bed with a minimum of contact and no discussion. Prepare yourself for a few evenings of being severely annoyed, but never let them see you sweat.

I also started talking to the girls about it during the day. I explained that at bedtime, I would put them in bed and they would stay there. And that really helped, I think.

And by the second week, we really could put them in bed, and they would stay there and fall asleep.

Then D. was born, and did I ever tell you that he was in the NICU? Oh, I did? OK. Well, S. did not take kindly to the whole disappearing act her parents pulled during that time, so bedtime became a nightmare. We’d put her to bed, she’d scream. And scream. And scream some more – but she didn’t get out of bed. And since she wasn’t an infant, but rather a 3-year-old (almost), we figured that (1) A little screaming never killed anyone. (2) Her sister was RIGHT THERE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, so she wasn’t alone. (3) The better we ignore it, the faster it ends. And so it was, and within a few weeks, all was right once more.

Then D. got older and needed a routine of his own. He was about 6 months old when he outgrew the crib, so we got a kid-size couch that opened up and stuck it in our room at the foot of the bed. Mr. WG would lie down with him every evening at 7:30, and by 8:30, Mr. WG would be fast asleep. D. would be watching TV. Not so much what I was going for.

We explored many options, and ultimately, the one that worked best was sometime around the time he turned two, when we went back to the plan that had worked with the girls. Do the routine, stick him in bed, leave. When he shows up, turn him right back around and stick him back in bed. I’m telling you, the first night it’s 40 times, the second night it’s 20, and the third night, it’s like, three.

These days, at 7:30, we toss Baby J. into his crib where he whimpers for a few seconds, then sleeps. Then we head up the stairs and stick D., Z., and S. in the girls’ room. They don’t have to go to sleep, but they have to stay up there. And that’s the way it works round here.


Anonymous said...

Have I ever told you how glad I am that you are my friend? Because someday when I have kids, I will be able to pump you for advice and not have to pay you a consulting fee.