Bedtime Battle: A Sleepless Saga in 31 Rounds

March 10, 2013 | By Brent Almond | DAD STUFF, LESSONS LEARNED


It was 8:49 p.m. on a Monday.
Jon had already been put back in bed 4 times.

The following is taken directly from Twitter, on a recent evening when I attempted to apply a technique discussed in the Parenting Preschoolers class I’ve been taking. The process (dubbed “Cold Turkey” by my instructor) involves calmly and silently leading your child back to bed, without making eye contact or conveying any emotion or negative body language whatsoever. Repeat as necessary until stationery toddler is achieved. The point is to communicate that the appropriate behavior is to stay in bed, without giving the attention (negative or positive) they are trying to weasel out of you.

I decided to tweet my ordeal. Partly to entertain myself, and partly to hold myself accountable. If I knew people were “watching” I’d be less likely to lose my mind cool. Because it’s a lot f’ing harder than it sounds.

The players:

@DesignerDaddy (all tweets are by me, unless otherwise identified)
@PEPParent (organization teaching the class and the putting-to-bed technique being applied)
@BloggerFather (fellow dad blogger, who makes a cameo appearance)
Papa (silent, supporting — but essential — role)
Jon (the star of this saga)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So I’m trying what my @PEPParent textbook says and keep putting my son back to bed. Here goes put back #5.

Put back #6 @PEPParent

Put back #7 @PEPParent

I’m just going to load up a few of these and have ’em ready… Put back #8 @PEPParent (Give me strength)

Put back #9 @PEPParent Am I doing this right?

Put back #10 Who wants to wager how many it will be before A) he stays down or B) I lose my cool? @PEPParent

Put back #11. Left his room, came and closed MY office door. @PEPParent

Put back #12. Broke down & talked to him. Told him it would be helpful to Daddy & Papa if he stayed in bed. @PEPParent Fingers crossed (& eyes)

Okay, he’s staying in his room, but keeps getting up, jiggling the handle and is now singing to himself. #betterthannothing @PEPParent

Still moving around, making noise, jiggling the handle. But also still in his room. Dare I relax? @PEPParent

Put back #13. Too much door handle jiggling going on — and Daddy needs to watch his zombie show in peace! @PEPParent #TheWalkingDead

#s 14 & 15. Here comes #16 @PEPParent

Papa did put back #17. Jon kept saying, “I need to talk to you.” Here goes #18

#19 put back on deck… I’ll stop tagging PEP until we’re successful keeping this child in bed.

#19 goes to Papa. Taking turns now as our nerves are wearing thin. #20 me

@PEPParent responds!
PEP: Ruh-roh! How old is the child with great persistence?
Me: 3 years 4 mos

#21 papa

#22 me. #23 papa. Ok this is ridiculous.

#24…kinda want to let my kid see #TheWalkingDead and be too scared to come back.

Hopefully this investment of time tonight (and probably tomorrow:) will pay off in the long run.

#26 papa. #27 me.
(You’ll note I have now gotten off count)

#28 Papa. Crying because he hurt his foot getting out of bed. Kid is crying, not Papa.

#29. Me.

Normally goes to bed alone?
Me: Alone? He’s been doing this off-and-on for weeks. We’ve just never tried it for this long.
PEP: Alone: Meaning that you don’t have to lay with him to get him to go to sleep.
Me: Gotcha. No, he’s always gone down alone.
PEP: That’s a great accomplishment in itself 🙂

#30 Papa. He’s crying for me. Little does he know…

#29 binkies and blanket have now been confiscated. By papa. “DADDY!” on a loop now.
(Note I have now gotten off count again)

@BloggerFather weighs in!
RT @DesignerDaddy: #28 Papa. Crying because he hurt his foot getting out of bed. Kid is crying, not Papa. // I assume Papa is crying inside.
Me: Mmm, probably more screaming inside.

Goodies have all been returned. Now, sweet silence.

I’m guessing you’re committing to this idea of saying goodnight once & have a solid evening routine in place. Dinner, play, …
PEP (cont’d): …bath time, story time & cuddles, bedtime with limited choices offered for story vs song, pj’s

PEP: Now’s the tough part, firm and friendly, no eye contact, patient, consistent, calm voice, have faith 🙂 Been there.

We were doing all that. But taking binky and letting him cry for 5 mins is what eventually seemed to work.

Hoping your radio silence means you’re back to your regularly scheduled programming 🙂

Asleep now.

Enjoy (the rest) of your evening 🙂

Thanks, will do! 🙂

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Epilogue 1: PEP follows up (2 weeks later)

Inquiring minds want to know… How is the bedtime routine going?

Me: Better. We don’t push naps too hard as long as he has some quiet time. That makes for a tireder boy at nite…

Me (cont’d):…and only a few “get up” incidents. Nothing above single digits! 🙂

PEP: Great idea! Love that you insist on some quiet time… it’s healthy for everyone to have down time 🙂

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Epilogue 2: The Relapse (2 weeks later-er)

We’ve had a few minor setbacks, and a major one just a couple of nights ago. We started out with the “Taking Your Goodies if You Get Out of Bed” tactic. But all this did was simultaneously entertain and piss Jon off, causing him to skitter out of his room more frequently (with increasing amounts of malicious glee) and frustrating us to no end. It was escalating without a peaceful resolution in sight.

So I hit the reset button and decided to give Cold Turkey another try.

Parenthetically, “Cold Turkey” is a crap moniker for this approach. The phrase is historically associated with quitting smoking or some other addiction; it implies cutting off, no more, end of story. This monotonous procedure is more like getting waterboarded, but less refreshing.

Yet I wasn’t sure I could employ CT without getting too steamed; so instead of putting Jon all the way back in bed, I just led him back to his door, watching until he crawled back in himself. Having to continuously pick him up and hoist him over his bedrail (he refuses to use the handy step stool and convenient opening) was too physical for me, making it more likely for me to Hulk out. This seemed to help me, but was it working on him?

I was determined to stay the course. I had shared our initial experience with my class, and we brainstormed on how to make the process more effective. There were many helpful suggestions, but it really boiled down to persistence and consistency. Slow and steady wins the race. Or drives us all batshit crazy.

Back to our count… As we got into the mid-teens, my child started hauling things out of his room with him (stickers, coloring books, puzzles, CDs, shoes) which I gently took away, placed in piles on the dining room table and led him back to his room. At one point he started saying, “Talk! Talk! Why aren’t you talking?” So I knew it was working.

After about an hour (and approximately 20 put backs) we achieved Nocturnal Nirvana at last. Nine fewer put backs than the last time — hey, progress is progress.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


I don’t think we’re completely finished with this battle yet. Our persistent progeny has proven a confident, strong-willed opponent in the past. But we want to do our best to train him, not break him. So…sorry, no neat wrap up/success story/helpful hint baloney this time.

Why share it then? Because it was unbelievably stressful. And hilarious. And infuriating. And a relief to know so many others have gone through this before us. And spitefully satisfying knowing others will after us.

Goodnight, dear reader.

And don’t you dare get out of bed.

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10 responses to “Bedtime Battle: A Sleepless Saga in 31 Rounds”

  1. daniel says:

    Been there. And it’s tough, but this does seem to be the best method for the age. We’ve sometimes broken “radio silence” by saying something along the lines of “it’s bedtime now” – always the same thing, always calm.

    calm and consistent are always best.

    • Brent M. Almond says:

      I’ll have to work my way up to a serene mantra. Had to do it again last night, but only about 10 times. Of course #10 he walked into a wall and bumped his head, so the crying afterward probably helped him get to sleep. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Lisa says:

    I have some other tips if you want them this method doesn’t always work for everyone and if it doesn’t work after 2-3 days I would move on to another method. The first night I tried this with Stone it was 52 times back screaming the entire time. So not worth it and he now goes to bed entirely on his own but sleeps with one of the dogs. Maybe let him have Cordi till he falls asleep and you can go get her out before you go to bed. Or I have several other methods you can try. I give you a huge hug for surviving that first night without ending up on the evening news though 🙂

    • Brent M. Almond says:

      I’m not sure Cordi would be up for it — JJ wiggles around too much and she’d be like, “LATER!” But I’ll definitely let you know if we need more ideas. So far we’ve had some success with the Cold Turkey method, with a little of We’ll-Take-Your-Binky-If-You-Get-Up Method mixed in.

      And I’ll take that hug!


  3. Noah says:

    I commend you for not going postal, I would go insane for sure! This will pass, so enjoy it while it lasts!! This post was very entertaining for those of us without kids btw. Totes hilarious!

    • Brent M. Almond says:

      Thanks for the reminder that all things pass! Not sure if we can enjoy it, but we’ll definitely survive it! 🙂

      And glad to know you got a chuckle out of it. Having a sense of humor is essential!


  4. Lisa says:

    Haha guess what.. If you think this is tough wait till you have to get rid of the binky… This is nothing compared to that! Big hugs guys you are doing a smashing job! And by smashing I mean your heads against the wall I’m sure ;). Love you!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Wow – bed time is still a struggle and my little angel/devil is 6. We have a routine bath, teeth, pj’s, story, bed. I do play lullaby music and it does work. I know this when she says please don’t turn it on! Because, well it does lull ….;) I did the whole confiscate goodies too…it works sometimes but does backfire and then there is hysterics over the loss of items….She also likes to read, so we did let her have a small light and some books, however I would be going to bed at 10 and see her light in there still reading! So now that has to have a time limit too. And they do play one parent against the other, how do they know how to do this?! If hubby is away on business, bedtime is a breeze and subsequently vice-versa if I am not there at bed time. I even had hubby hide once and pretend he wasn’t there! hey, whatever works, right?! Overall I think being consistent, not talking and putting back really will work but when you are in it …it is whatever will work…period.

  6. Lisa irvine says:

    Ok so I learned a new method that is AMAZING! Put them in their room with books or whatever they want to play with like an hour before you want them to go to bed and tell them they can’t leave the room but they can come get you when they are ready to go to bed. I totally thought Bulldonkey no way this will work but it totally does I leave Stone in his room after a story and hugs and kisses and he looks at books or plays with the dog or whatever he wants to do and about 35/40 minutes later I hear ok mom I’m going to bed, Love you!! It’s amazing!

  7. […] Bedtime Battle: A Sleepless Saga in 31 Rounds My retelling of an epic battle to get JJ to stay in bed, wherein I put into practice techniques learned in a parenting class. Chronicled entirely in Twitter, with guest appearances by my instructor and a fellow dad blogger. […]

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