If you can’t stand listening to your child cry (and who can), you might want to stop reading.
If you’ve read my blog, you know that we have struggled mightily with Jack’s bedtime.
There are a variety of reasons:
1. An absolutely ridiculous forced naptime at his daycare (more on this later).
2. A bad association with having one of us sit in his room at bedtime.
3. A basic loss of parenting control, which is embarrassing to admit.
We’ve used the “Ferber method” before to sleep-train both of our kids. It all comes from this book:
You can buy it here. I took it out of the library many, many times when Jack was a baby. The basic premise is that your child needs to learn to put himself to sleep. As a baby, you teach them this by letting them settle themselves down for longer and longer increments. (This is after they really need midnight nursings, etc., and we didn’t do it until each kid was about 9-10 months old.) So you lay your kiddo down, they might cry, and you leave. And go back in in 5 minutes or so (there are timetables in the book to follow, so I am just being general here). You might pat them and assure yourself that the baby is safe, and let the baby know all is well, and then you leave.
If they keep crying, you go back in 10 minutes, and do the same thing. Then 15 minutes, and every 15 minutes until the baby is asleep.
I confess, there were a few nights this went on for hours. And you repeat it every time they wake up.
It sounds evil, I know. But I swear to God it works, and often after only two or three days. And then my kiddos slept through the night, woke up rested and happy and everyone enjoyed being together on cheerful mornings. And I’m not some demon or anti-Dr. Sears wackadoo. I snuggled my babies in bed with me, nursed them for a year, carried them around in slings, etc. We hug, kiss, cuddle and love on our kids nonstop.
But sometimes, you have to just do it. Help a kiddo help themselves.
And that’s the point we were at with Jack’s sleep. We’ve tried the same method for a year now, and it isn’t working.
In desperation on Saturday, I downloaded Ferber’s book to my rarely used Nook. I already knew the baby stuff — we had been through it with two kids.
But I didn’t know much about how to do this with a preschooler. Who is in a big boy bed.
So, I read.
And friends, I was a little embarrassed. The book basically reinforced, gently, what I had been thinking: That the lunatics were running the asylum. I mean, that the kids were in charge, and we needed to take it back. He talks about how a crib functions as parental control, but once a kid is out, parents don’t know what to do.
So, the answer is: Make the entire room the crib.
He also talks about the whys — maybe parents feel guilty so they let their kids stay up. Maybe parents are just out of control in general, and bedtime is just another example. Maybe parents like some part of the situation, and keep doing it.
Philip and I talked. And, to be honest, argued. A lot. He read some of the book, we talked some more, and we tried it this weekend.
The idea with a preschooler is to teach them to stay in their room. Our night routine had been this: Bath, playtime, books, and then you basically have to sit in the rocker in Jack’s room and hiss at him to go to sleep for like 3 hours every night. It’s awful.
Ferber says: Stop it.
You don’t have to force your kid to stay in bed. Or be quiet. The only rule is: Stay in your room.
He recommends a few things before you start — including pick a bedtime that is like an hour past when your kid is falling asleep, even if that’s 11 p.m. You want it to be successful, and you want your kid tired. You can’t force an untired kid to sleep. And you shouldn’t resort to spankings at bedtime (guilty).
Instead, take all the emotion out of it. The games. Everything.
Take all the control back.
So, we put Jack in bed after his stories, after a full 3 hours playing at the pool and no nap, and said good night.
“Is daddy going to sit with me?”
“Nope. You’re a big boy now, buddy.”
“Nope, you can do it. You are a good boy, and can go to bed yourself.”
Jack doesn’t have anxiety and he isn’t scared at night. He’s just a turkey who can’t settle down. Ferber argues that it’s unfair to ask a kid his age to have the self-control to not go touch his toys, etc., so just let him do whatever, in his own room.
So we put him in his bed, and said he had to stay in his room. If he comes out, we shut the door (which he can’t open).
Of course, he came out.
We shut the door. At first, he loved it. Yeah! More time to play!
But after a while, it lost its luster.
We shut it for 5 minutes. Then you open it, no matter what they are doing. If they are screaming, kicking the wall, whatever, you open it. The goal isn’t to imprison them. They can do anything in their own room. Jack mostly cried and yelled.
You aren’t supposed to go into their room. Ferber argues, just like you wouldn’t crawl in a baby’s crib. Makes sense to me. So we stood at the door and just said we love him and go to bed.
You also aren’t supposed to engage in any conversation. Ferber winks that kids are smart, and will find a way to foil you. Your goal is to not let them, and in that, show them that you are in charge, that you will always be there to care for them, and they can rest assured they are safe. They want boundaries.
But man, it’s tough to do the right thing.
Philip and I had some heated arguments this weekend about it all. Parenting is hard enough on a marriage. Sleep-training can make it tougher. Sleep-deprivation, a screaming kid and stress are like a trifecta of marriage horribleness.
But we tried to keep our eye on the prize. Because you know what else matters? Marriage itself. I’d like to spend an evening with my spouse. We give everything to our children, and I believe it’s important to show them what a healthy marriage looks like. And that includes time for just mommy and daddy.
So go to bed, kiddo.
Jack did eventually fall asleep after a while.
It was tempting on Sunday to let him take a nap, because he was clearly exhausted from his shenanigans on Saturday night. But we didn’t. And put him to bed, and it was only three door closings last night.
I hope tonight is even better. We are getting there. Ferber assures us it only takes about two weeks.
But in that time, you need to keep a really consistent schedule. Wake your kid up at the same time every day. Meals at the same time, nap or no nap, etc. Once you get the sleep training done, you can blow your schedule up again for a special evening or a lazy Sunday morning.
Until then, be militant.
Which brings me to another issue: The daycare nap.
I can’t even express my anger at this issue. I have met with our directors, argued with them, etc., and nothing changes. They force the kids to lay in the dark for at least 2 hours every day. They claim they don’t have the staff for anything else. Yet other daycares find a way, including home daycares.
And Ferber says most kids drop their nap between ages 3 and 4. Yet when I brought this up to my daycare, they were incredulous and said they had “never heard” of a 3-year-old not napping. I find that surprising. Since most of my friends’ kids Jack’s age don’t nap.
But Ferber also said making a child lay in the dark for hours during the day is cruel, and if your daycare does this, you should fine a new one.
I agree, but we stay with our daycare for other reasons (mostly a love of the staff who seem to have their hands tied).
So, until Jack begins preschool, I am going to have to take time out of my work day every daycare day and go get him. I need his schedule to be consistent to make our sleep-training work. And the forced nap creates a horrible cycle for us: Forced to nap, then up late because of a nap, then tired the next day, falls asleep at daycare, up late, then sleeps in one morning, no nap at home, blah blah. I find after a few days home together with no nap, life is great and bedtime is better.
But for now, I’ll have to figure something else out.
I wish I weren’t so annoyed by that. But let’s face it — that messes up my day. I often work through lunch (so I can leave on time to get the kids) or run outside. And I am annoyed that a place I pay for service is not particularly accommodating or creative in brainstorming a solution. It is the only complaint I have about them, but it’s a doozy.
But it’s just a few more weeks until preschool. And if he hates the preschool, or, more likely, we can’t afford the full-time tuition, then maybe I can push back harder and work more with daycare. It’s frustrating to love the teachers so much and yet be so annoyed overall. Though I guess I am grateful that the people involved with my kids all day are wonderful, kind and loving.
Until then, I hope our nights get better.
If not, I might lock myself in my own room.