I’m pretty sure that it was Marianne Williamson that said “if you set boundaries you get flack”. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the turn of events when I decided I was going to get my little night-owl back on track at night. Early to bed, early to rise… well, you know the rest.
She had spent the day with her dad (it was his weekend, but she has refused to sleep over since around Thanksgiving) and he had mentioned that she was a tired little girl. He lives about 4 miles away and she was nodding off on the ride home. Then we did a little sledding for good measure. *Really* tucker her out (plus the warmer weather was setting in and I knew it was the last night of snow for who-knows-how-long). So… I figured “score!”… great night to get back on track! I still had some school work to do, but I put it down and concentrated on the task at hand… I know from previous experiences there is a window of opportunity and I happen to be on the right side of it for once. Maybe she would fall right off to sleep, and then I could get up and do some more school work… maybe play a video game? Maybe get a good night sleep myself, since the next day was going to be busy with finishing school papers, work, etc.
“This is going to be great!” I thought as we settled in to read our night-night stories. Mwuh-ha-haa.
The joke was on me.
Turns out “sleep is boring.” So boring, in fact, a five year old can cry for over two hours over it. Ask me how I know this… go ahead… ask. ; ) Bedroom light: off = negotiations: on. Remembering an episode of Super Nanny where she makes the mother sit quietly like a sleeping robot, I tried to remain still like I was sleeping. I gave her a gentle “If I talk to you, it will keep you awake, so I’m going to lie quietly and not answer. This doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it just means it is time to go to sleep”. “Momma.” “Momma.” “Momma.” Ad naseum. I brought up the “I love you” because, apparently, “Parents that love their children let them watch tv with the sound on in bed.” Wasn’t gonna happen. No TV, No video games. (I knew I was going to get flack over the “no” because we just don’t tell her that enough). If she couldn’t get me to agree to TV or a game, then by God, she was going to get me to agree to SOMETHING. I could feel the power struggle. I just didn’t know how to control it or defuse it. Then my patience started wearing thin. I finally got up and went into the living room, which turned the tears into hysterics. Finally I realized that she was just too worked up to calm herself down, so I went in and tried to sooth her. Of course, this put her in the power position and she took advantage of the opportunity to cry “I’m HUNGRY! I can’t sleep without food!!!” And I’m not proud of it, but I broke- “FINE! GO GET A SNACK THEN GO! TO! SLEEP!” Hey, I’m human and it was after 10 and I had a looooonnnnnngggggg day planned for Monday. Plus I just didn’t have any patience left. She got her sesame seeds, took one bite, and then fell fast asleep (a little past 10). Victorious.
I needed a plan. Since I couldn’t send her to Auntie Charlene’s boot camp (although I did consult), I decided we needed a new plan of attack. So… at 7:30 I gave her a 30 minute warning and a preview of our night. She had 30 minutes to play and eat a snack. Then the kitchen closed. She was allowed a snack and a drink to be placed on HER side of the bed. If she was hungry or thirsty she was to get it herself instead of asking me (5 or 6 times a night) for it. She could have three stories read to her (or some out of a chapter book), then she was to read quietly to herself while I did my homework until I shut off the light. Then it was sleep time. If she cried, for any reason, I would leave the room for 5 minutes. I would only come back if she was calm. The next time would be 10, then 15, etc.
Went very well.
Light: off = negotiations: on. She had been falling asleep in the buggy at Wal-mart, but now she wanted nothing to do with it. She only cried once and I left the room. We both had a good laugh at her calling from the bedroom “Momma... While you’re in there… can you get me another brownie??” When I came back in (with the brownie she never touched) she promptly fell fast asleep (a little past 10).
New Plan. I needed to diffuse the power struggle. I read about the difference between being authoritative and asserting power. I’m not really sure I understand the nuance… but if they have the power, they think “wow, this is cool… I have power.” If you assert your power, the think “Wow… that was cool. *I* want to do that.” Either way you lose. So, the trick, I figured is to have them perform the action, not because “I told you so” but because it is the right thing to do. I had been ‘parenting’ her to sleep for five and half years. Of COURSE she doesn’t know how to do it herself… I never let her. She goes to bed because I tell her to. She falls asleep because I sing to her, scratch her back, squeeze her cramped legs, tell her stories, or just wait long enough for her to fall asleep because it is so late.
Plus… Getting her to sleep on time, means me having to go to bed early. I really would happen to enjoy a little ‘me’ time. If I had a partner, I would spend quality time with them after the kiddo was asleep, right? (Of course I would have reinforcement, too). So, I figured… if I’m *already* in a lose/lose situation… why not make it a lose/win situation? If I’m going to have to listen to her cry/fuss for 2.5 hours… might as well work towards getting her out of my bed. Step one… have her learn to fall asleep without me in it. So, a new plan was born.
At 7:30 she got a half hour warning to play/eat. I explained the plan to her: At 8:00 the kitchen closed. I would set out her snack/drink. Pick out 3 (or 4) stories. I would read to her, then go into the living room. I told her that I have been putting her to sleep, and that I think she is old enough and SMART enough to figure out how to do that on her own now. I told her I would trust her to MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES. She positively beamed at the idea, and I knew I was really onto something.
So… everything went fine until I went to leave her. She protested that she would be lonely, and I assured her I would be in the living room. I went the restroom, and then settled on the couch to do some homework. All was quiet. I was thinking “wow… she’s staying in her bed!” Then she jumped up from next to the other couch with a “Hi MOMMA!” lol. I asked her if she thought she was capable of making the right choices and choosing bed, and she said yes. I asked her if she was tired in the morning from going to bed too late and she said yes. I asked her if she wishes she had gone to sleep earlier and she said yes. She said she wanted to sleep in her closet, and I (not knowing what else to do since I didn’t want to “demand” she go to sleep, because that wasn’t letting her figure it out on her own) let her take a pillow and blanket into the closet. Finally, she came into the living room, crawled on the back of the sofa and fell fast asleep on her own (a little past 10).
Not the best night, but I did get two hours of homework done, enjoyed a glass of wine, and it was peaceful.
Same plan, modified. I asked if it would make her feel better if I sat in the living room, but on a chair in the doorway so she could see me, or by the bed (but not in it). She actually chose for me to be in the living room. She said she didn’t like “being my servant” and I asked her what that meant to her and she said “you tell me what to do and are bossy.” I told her that it is kind of part of the job description of a mom, but I would try and let her figure things out for herself and that when she finally gets it right, it will feel good knowing she made the right decisions. Plus she will feel better getting more sleep.
First part went well. Then I got my chair by the door and put my video game on. She was ‘scared’ in the bed and put a pillow and blanket by the door of the bedroom. Soon she got up and went to the couch. She made a comment on the game, and I asked her if her plan was to ‘help’ me play, or to go to sleep. She chose sleep. Rolled over and after a while fell fast asleep (around 9:30).
On an interesting note… I’ve had ZERO problems with her in the morning. We have our “star” chart going, and this helps tremendously. But the mornings have been smooth. As a matter of fact, there haven’t been any ‘power struggles’ since night three. She has even put her Nintendo DS case away without being asked this morning.
So… am I being too lenient? Am I leaving the reins a little too loose? I feel like teaching her to choose because it is the ‘right thing to do’ vs. ‘because I told you so’ is an important lesson with her. Sometimes you have to let them make mistakes and guide them in the right direction (Lord, give me patience… Amen). She is very headstrong and when I look to the future when she is a teenager, if she doesn’t know how to make the ‘right’ choice and that there is repercussions from your actions, then she will be so focused on getting what she wants (or thinks she wants) then I’m going to have a huge problem on my hands. My dad used to always say “you’re only fooling yourself, little kid”. This equated to “you think you’re benefitting by ‘getting away with something’ … but you’re only screwing yourself” or something like that anyhow. It was a very effective statement (with me anyhow).
Wonder what will happen on the weekend?