Bedtime Battle: A Sleepless Saga in 31 Rounds


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! 🙂

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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.

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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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