Bedtime Battles

I can't remember the days when X would put on his pjs, let us brush his teeth, snuggle in for two books, then happily get tucked in to his bed. S and I take turns putting him to bed, alternating nights and it's pretty sad that both of us practically throw confetti when we get the night off. Although, most of the time we end up having to tag team to relieve the other when it's getting out of hand.

These days, he's a little mouthy about getting his pjs on, but will. He does like to brush his teeth and even lets me floss his teeth, which is a new development with his latest dental check-up. That's an adventure in itself. Anyway, then he happily chooses, two books, we read said books with the Sleep Sheep on, light turned down, and then he happily snuggles into bed letting me tuck him in and drifts off to dreamland states he wants to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed. Then he needs water. Then he doesn't want to stay in his room. Then he's panicked that I'll go downstairs. Next thing I know, I'm frustrated, have put him back in his bed 20 times kicking and screaming that he hates his bed, and now he's throwing his toys all over his room calling me a Meany Poopy Head.

The whole routine starts at about 7:45pm and lasts until 9:00pm when he finally passes out from exhaustion. Somewhere around 12:30-1:00am, X will wake up and climb into our bed. We are too tired to put him back, and the one time S tried, it started a temper tantrum that lasted until about 2:00am, so it's really not worth it if we want to get any sleep.

I'm embarrassed to say it, but more than once I've lost my sh*t when I can't take anymore and have yelled at him to GO TO BED. Uh, that doesn't work. Now, normally, S can tell when I've been upstairs too long and he hears the banging and kicking and yelling by X soon enough to come upstairs and relieve me before I blow a gasket, but the fact remains that I have a short fuse, and I have trouble controlling it when stressed. Some nights I'm ok with dealing with it, but it's those nights when I have 5 other tasks to complete before I get to go to bed and the longer X fights going to sleep, the less likely it is that I'll get anything done, and before I know it the entire house is falling apart and I'm way behind on life. I know that's not X's problem, it's my problem, but it is so f-cking frustrating to see an obviously tired kid fighting sleep.

Techniques we have tried and failed:
  •  Putting him back in his bed every time he gets up. Telling him I'm going to put him back in his bed every time he gets out of bed, and at some point in the process I stop talking to him and keep putting him back. That's been fairly consistent for most of this year and has yet to work. He thinks it's a game. I get sick of putting him back to bed 25-50 times, and it's usually when I reach my boiling point.
  • Giving him a book to read or telling him he doesn't have to sleep if he isn't tired, but that he has to stay in his room. We can't lock his door, and I worry about him yanking off a 75 year old door knob that is already wobbly, so it's not really an option.
  • Holding the door closed and talking to him through the door, telling him that it's time for bed and if he can't stay in his room I'll hold the door closed until he can. He throws trucks at the door instead.
  • Telling him we will stay upstairs in the living room, but he needs to stay in his bed.
  • Using a responsibility chart. If he gets all the responsibilities done for 2 days in a row, he gets a special treat. I don't think he's old enough for that yet, because he doesn't seem to grasp cause and effect unless it's immediate effect.
  • Flat out bribery. If you stay in your bed tonight, you can have a special treat tomorrow. That one has never worked.
  • Laying down with him in his bed (which is a crib converted to toddler bed, ow). He won't fall asleep, just when I think he's asleep and I move to get up, he's up in a flash.
  • Blankie/Sleep Sheep/stuffed animals/light on but dimmed....nope
  • Earning  - One night he had a 2 hour tantrum in which he threw every single toy he could find at me or out his door. We picked up all the toys and hid them, then told him he could earn them back by going to bed when it was time to go to bed. About a month later, he seemed to turn the corner and earned back the toys. He's since regressed. So...
  • Taking something away - S recently threatened to throw away the Halloween candy. He even took one piece of candy out of X's bag and put it in a plastic grocery (trash) bag. Well, that had the opposite effect as you can well imagine. S later admitted he knew it wasn't going to work, and he did it out of frustration. I was in the middle of feeding Baby Z, watching the whole thing go down and seriously had to fight the giggles. I knew exactly where it was going. Of course, it added an extra 15 minutes or so of reassurance that the entire bag of candy was not going to be thrown away and Daddy was frustrated and just wants X to go to sleep so he can be ready for school tomorrow, yada yada yada.
Where we are after Candy-gate:

We dragged out Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child , which has been useful in the past, especially as an infant. I read the 2-year old/toddler chapter last year, but it really didn't work (that putting back to bed without talking thing was supposed to be the best way, but it obviously didn't work for X). For pre-schoolers, it seems to shift to more of an anxiety issue. It's fairly obvious with X that he thinks he's missing out on something fun when he goes to sleep before we do. He also doesn't want us to leave his room, so there's some separation anxiety going on too. One of the things we realized as well, is that in trying to find something that works, we've been pretty inconsistent. His getting ready for bedtime routine is consistent, but how we deal with him after that is where we've had trouble. We don't seem to stick with one technique for very long before trying another. It's a desperate attempt to find the magic technique, and we probably haven't given the ones that could work enough time to work.

New techniques we'll try  (and stick to) over the next several weeks:
  • Gradual separation. Sit in X's room after reading him books, without talking to him, just being there until he is close to falling asleep. If he wakes up when leaving  the room, assure him that I'll be staying upstairs.
  • When he stays in his bed, slip a little treat under his pillow (hot wheels car, silly putty, that kind of stuff) and tell him the Sleep Fairy came and rewarded him for staying in his bed.
  • As that becomes routine, start leaving his room earlier, when he's more awake, and keep up the Sleep Fairy visits.
  • When he sleeps in his bed through the night, take him shopping for a toy of his choosing (within a budget, but pretty big)
I hope to accomplish a few things by switching to this technique. First, I think S and I need to set a routine that we know we have to stick to, and get over the idea that we can put him down in 20 minutes then be done with it. Part of our problem is that I think both of us are frustrated that it's taking the entire evening to get him to sleep and there's yelling/throwing/name calling going on. If we slow it all down, accept that we might have to sit in his room for an hour, then hopefully the entire bedtime routine will calm down. Now, I feel myself gearing up for battle the second we tell X to put on his pjs and it's super stressful. Second, X is obsessed with having his overhead light on. I've tried switching him to a starry night glow pet, and that failed miserably. I tried a little LED clip on reading light to give a little bit of light, and that failed miserably. If we're staying in his room, we can work on turning off instead of dimming the overhead light and get that darkness cue to seep into his consciousness. I'm still planning on using a nightlight, but that's got to be better. And hopefully, this also takes care of the getting up in the middle of the night and coming to our bed issue. We aren't going to do anything about that while we work on the initial bedtime routine and wait to see if that happens to correct itself as we get X comfortable with his room.

Obviously, much of the success lies with us being consistent and letting go any pretense of getting dishes washed, picking up the house, or relaxing much before we have to go to bed.