Here Is A Present For Parents Of Toddlers With Sleeping Issues (a.k.a. All Of Them)

This happy face slept alllllll by herself last night. 

The amount of time that Kendrick and I have to ourselves in the evening has become an emergency situation. Because it doesn’t actually exist anymore, and it needs to, both because theoretically two humans who are married and enjoy doing things together other than watching Moana for the 10,000th time should probably get to do those things occasionally, and also because the season finale of The Walking Dead happened on Sunday and I still have not seen it, and that is an emergency if I’ve ever heard of one.

See, what happens – every. night. – is that our kids ask us to “snuggle” with them until they fall asleep, which either takes a crazy-long amount of time, or ends with one or both of us falling asleep with them. So our “us” time is either twenty minutes around 11PM, or nonexistent.

I’ve tried various fixes, of course – just saying “no,” keeping a consistent nighttime routine, etc etc etc – but none of them have worked, and disruptions to the snuggling habit mostly just result in increasing hysteria levels to the point where it just seems easier to lay with them or let them sleep in our bed. Which is obviously not a great parenting strategy, but when you’re exhausted and everyone is either crying or asking for “just one more snack” or flinging books off shelves in rage because apparently asking a child to sleep is like telling them that Bubble Guppies went off the air forever…I don’t know, your priorities tend to get kinda screwed up.

cool kids never sleep poster

Indy and Goldie’s personal life motto.

I told a friend of mine about what’s been going on, and she said, “No. You have to fix this.” Which is accurate, but I knew that. I’ve tried. I don’t know what to do. So she emailed me a plan and said that if I followed it for five straight days, my children would be going to sleep all by themselves with zero fussing.

It took two.

None of this is rocket science, and all of it is based in principles I already knew (at least in theory), but I cannot believe how well this worked. And so I’m leaving the routine here as a little mitzvah for parents who are dealing with similar nighttime struggles.

The “Get Your Life Back” Bedtime Routine

  1. Tell your child the bedtime plan at least two times over the course of the day. “Tonight we are going to have a new special bedtime routine. You are a big girl/boy now. You use the potty, you don’t sit in a high chair anymore, and now you are big enough to go to sleep by yourself too.” Lay out the plan with as much detail as possible (“Mom/Dad will brush your teeth, read you X number of stories, sing X number of songs, etc”) – and make sure it’s a plan you can keep consistent. Then end with “…and then Mom/Dad will give you a big hug and a kiss and leave the room so you can fall asleep in your big girl/boy bed all by yourself.”
  2. Tell them what will happen if they choose to get out of bed and come out of the bedroom. “If you choose to get up and come out of your room at bedtime, I am going to put you back in your bed and say ‘You are a big girl now. I love you, and it’s bedtime. Then I’m going to close the door.'”
  3. Check for understanding. “What is going to happen if you choose to get up out of bed?” See what they say, and go over the plan again if your child isn’t repeating back the main concept (something like “Mommy will take me back to my bed and close the door”). If they’re too distracted, just let it go and try again later.
  4. At night, follow the routine exactly as you said you would, and be consistent with consequences. Make sure your child has everything they need (water, favorite stuffed animal, etc). If they get up, put them back in bed and say “You are a big boy/girl now. I love you, and it’s bedtime.” No other words need to be said. Then leave, and close the door. If you don’t have a lock, hold the door shut with your hand for no more than 30 seconds (your child will obviously go straight to Defcon 1 hysteria levels, if they’re anything like mine), and then open the door and ask if they want to try again. If they say “no,” immediately close the door and repeat until you get a “yes.” Then bring them back to bed, repeat the phrase (“You are a big girl/boy now. I love you, and it’s bedtime”), and leave (you can leave the door cracked or however they prefer it at night; closing the door is a consequence for getting out of bed and leaving the room). If they get up again, repeat the steps.
  5. Give it five nights (without skipping steps or taking shortcuts)

This works. I’m serious. On Day One, I had to repeat the steps for about 30 minutes, and there was a lot of crying, but on night two she got up once, cried when I shut the door, and then said she wanted to try again…and boom. ASLEEP. (My son basically followed the plan the first time we tried it out; he left the bed once but didn’t get upset when I told him to go back to bed.) I’m sure this approach doesn’t conform to everyone’s parenting style, but for me the end result was happier and more rested children, and much happier and more rested parents.

So there you go, toddler parents. Good luck.

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