Back to School - Bedtime Blues
So, my last blog was about getting back into routine in preparation for the start of the School term.
Following a summer of late nights spent on the beach (in the rain), having barbeques (in the rain) and a general, blissful, slackness of routine, I duly followed my own advice and gradually moved bedtime back to 7, waking my children up earlier in the morning in preparation for the term ahead.
3 weeks in we have endured the worst bedtime battles since my daughter was 3 (my 2 year old, thankfully, goes down pretty well). I joyfully got back into the usual routine: pj's, story, song, bed, and the new assurances I would check on them in 10 minutes.... only to have my daughter trundle downstairs within 5 minutes of me kissing her goodnight.
The usual excuses followed, from the mundane 'I'm hungry/thirsty' to 'can I have a cuddle?/ I have tummy ache' to the more imaginative 'Can snakes/ burglars/bears/people from the olden days get into our house?'
I would take her back upstairs, tuck her in, and the same would happen over and over again. I tried so hard to be patient and often succeeded but too many of the days over the last weeks have ended in tears (hers, mine or her little brother's who she succeeded in waking up) and guilt (mine!). A side portion of frustration and annoyance that our precious evenings were being ruined made for a pretty grim time!
And, of course, not getting to sleep until around 9 and waking early meant for a tired little girl. I'm a great believer in reward charts for learning new things or establishing new routines. However I also believe that going to bed, like saying 'please' or 'thank you' are givens, once established they shouldn't need rewards. It's also tough to explain to a 5 or 6 year old or older preschooler that last week they were rewarded for going to bed but this week it's expected; on some level to some children this may send a message that if they misbehave they get more reward in the end!
After the first week the situation was getting to me and the old gnawing in the stomach started as bedtime approached. It seemed that after 7 long weeks of having me around most days, the change in routine, newness of her class, new pupils and being away from me for the majority of most days had made my daughter anxious at bedtime.
So I took a piece of paper upstairs and taped it to her bed; a sticker chart for my husband and I, not for Alice! I promised her that every time we checked on her, whether she was asleep or awake we would put a sticker on the piece of paper, so when she woke in the night she could tell we were around and that we had been in to see her. And it worked! I went up after 15 minutes, then 20 and for the first time in weeks Alice was asleep before 8 (after lots of excitement from her at 7.30, saying 'I'm doing really well aren't I?!'.
I'll replace this with a fresh sheet of paper with a new note ("Night Night, Love you" etc) every night and keep going until my little girl can trust again that we are always around, even if we're not physically present for every moment of her day.
It was a good reminder for me, too, that while bad habits are frustrating and can be hard to break, we need to look at WHY our little ones are doing something not WHAT they are doing. Alice felt a little vulnerable and needed reassurance that we are ever present, whether she's at school or asleep. She was also as distressed by her inability to sleep as we were (well, nearly, anyway!).
I'm trying not to feel too guilty for not working that out last week instead of just thinking she was being naughty! It is tough to sleep train an older child; their ability to get downstairs unaided doesn't help and nor does their overactive imaginations. You can't control cry or return and check a 4, 5 or 6 year old! At this stage try taking a step back and looking at why your child's behaviour may have changed suddenly, there may be a change in routine or things going on at home. And I can highly recommend the parents' sticker chart! (and you can reward yourselves with a peaceful evening!).
Free Baby Sleep Guide