I know. I said earlier that our bedtime troubles were banished. Well, I thought they were. We went about 6 weeks with zero troubles. Zero! No drama. Nothing. I thought, “This is so awesome, I’m going to blog about it.” Maybe that was the problem, because not long after that our easy bedtime routine started to deteriorate.
Which probably means I shouldn’t be blogging about bedtime now. If I believed in karma or was superstitious, then I would stop. But I’m not, so, on I go.
Why Self-Regulated Bedtime Wasn’t Working For Us
It all comes down to this: My children are not disciplined enough. They don’t want to tell themselves no. They don’t listen to their bodies to know they are tired. And I can’t train all of them at the same time!
And maybe that’s it. That’s really all I was missing is the training.
That’s really what was wrong with self-regulated bedtimes. I didn’t know how to train them to do it. It was a trick I was using…until it no longer worked.
It’s Time to Start Bedtime Training
Training children to do anything is as simple as practice, practice, practice. At least, on paper it is. Actually doing it includes crying and whining and general refusal. Our biggest challenge was only having one room for our 4 kids. Not an ideal way to train for bedtime. So, Hubby and I gave up our bedroom. We now sleep on a murphy bed in the living room. Crazy, right! But now we have two bedrooms and can split up the kids.
Divide and Conquer
To make things easier, we put the kids on a tiered bedtime schedule:
9:00—Joy (9 months)
We put them to bed in order of difficulty. Although Grace is the oldest, she is the one we struggle with most. Joy is just learning what bedtime means and is a bit loud about refusing, so she is last.
We put Grace in a room by herself and the other three in the other room.
We put Joy with Faith and Ben because once they fall asleep, they don’t normally wake up from noise. The time gaps between kids gives the previous kid enough time to fall asleep. Faith has 30 minutes to fall asleep before Ben gets put to bed. Ben has 90 minutes to fall asleep before Joy gets put to bed.
Bedtime Training Setup
Now that we have the bedroom situation figured out and we know what time kids are going to bed. It’s time to start training.
Here are the steps:
- Mom explains what going to bed well means
- Child practices 3 times
- After each practice, child is asked what they could improve on.
- Child practices being mom and mom “goes to bed well”
See why the tiered schedule is so important. It’s pretty hard to do all of this with all of the kids at first.
Here is an example of a training session with Ben:
“Ok, Ben. It’s time to practice going to bed. We are going to practice 3 times and then you can be the Mommy and I will practice once.”
“To go to bed well, you:
- Walk straight to your bed when I tell you it’s bedtime
- Stay in your bed until I come tell you it’s morning
- Stay silent
Are you ready to practice? Ok. It’s time to go to bed!”
Ben proceeds to collapse dramatically on the floor. “I’m too tired!”
I ignore him and carry him to bed. I sing one song (the same song every night, no requests), pray for him, and tell him I love him and goodnight. Meanwhile, he continues to moan about how he hates going to bed. I leave the room.
I set the timer for 5 minutes and attempt to ignore whatever horrible noises he is making.
When the timer goes off, I walk dramatically into the room and announce, “Good morning, Ben!”
Once we are sitting together on the couch, I ask him, “Did you go straight to bed?”
“No, you carried me.”
“Did you stay in your bed?”
“That’s right you did. Were you silent the whole time?”
“Well, not the whole time.”
“Okay, so you have two things to work on. Walking to your bed and being silent. Which one do you want to focus on first?”
“Walking. It’s easier.”
“Great. This time when you practice you are going to work on walking to your bed. Ready? It’s time for bed!”
You get the idea. We would practice two more times and then we would switch roles. That part is my kids’ favorite. And if I am honest, I like it too. 5 minutes of uninterrupted rest! Wonderful!
After the second practice, there is normally improvement that I can point out to them. It really encourages them for the third practice.
I try and stay upbeat during the process. Even if they practice horribly, I try and find something they did well. If they are generally refusing, normally going over the three things and asking them to pick one to work on will help tremendously.
When and How Often Did We Practice Going to Bed?
In the beginning, we practiced 3 times a day. The very first practice, I went through it with each kid individually. The other practices were altogether and always right before a meal. Food drives my kids. At first, training was easy and then it got harder. Once I started getting resistance I had to use “when then” a lot. When you are done practicing you can eat lunch/play outside/ watch a movie.
When I was doing practices with all of the kids we would rotate who was the Mommy. First it was me, then Grace, then Ben and last Faith. That way, all of the kids got a chance and we didn’t have to do more than 4 practices total.
You don’t have to practice that much, but the more you practice in the beginning, the smoother things will go and the faster they will catch on.
We practiced 3 times a day for a week. It was pretty obvious that Faith wasn’t having any troubles sleeping or practicing, so I dropped all of her practices. The only problem we were having with Ben is whining and refusing to walk to bed. So, he kept his 3 practices but only practiced the getting in bed part.
Grace on the other hand. She took (is taking) a lot more practice. But I knew that was going to be the case. We have been having rages at night for about 5 years (Which is about when we started regulating her sleep. Don’t wait until they’re 2 to teach them how to sleep!). 6 months later and she is still scheduled to practice once a day. But I can tell there’s been huge improvement because we keep forgetting to have her do it. Poor child with the forgetful parents. I should add it to my routine tracker. That would fix that.
What About When Children Backslide
So, you’ve done the training. Your kid is dramatically improved. Then suddenly, they are getting up 4 times a night or chatting endlessly in bed. What do you do? Was training worth it?
Backsliding is something humans do. I do it all of the time. It’s quite easy to fix. The sooner you notice it, the less time it will take to fix.
When a kid has a hard night, the next day they lose some of their free time for training. It’s not a punishment thing. I try and tell them that. It can feel like punishment because they are losing free time. It’s just reality. When you are struggling with something you need to practice it.
Results of Bedtime Training 7 Months Later
It’s weird to think that it’s already been 7 months since we started training.
After that first week of intensive training, we noticed huge improvement. Although there was still fit throwing from Grace, it wasn’t the intense rages we had experienced before. About 3 months after we started we moved Joy into the room with her. She really didn’t like sharing a room with the baby. Babies cry at night you know. We told her that if she could go to sleep without being loud, she could move into the other room. About a month later and she was ready.
Remember, we have been struggling with her bedtime for at least 5 years, probably her whole life. If only we had sleep trained her as a baby like we did with the others. So, 7 months of training is not really that surprising.
She is now to the point where she goes to bed without any troubles. While in bed, she struggles falling asleep without singing or talking to herself. We will continue working on that. But compared to screaming at the top of her lungs for hours, she is doing good!
Another 7 months and we’ll be there!
The Most Surprising Part of Bedtime Training
Aside from its effectiveness, the most surprising part for me is that it’s effective without punishment.
I hear all the time that a negative behavior (ex. getting up multiple times a night) will go away if you make it uncomfortable. We made it as uncomfortable as we knew how! We were getting nowhere, aside from exhausted!
How can just training without any punishment for failure work? The way Amy McCready (http://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/) explains it is that removing punishment removes fear of failure and the pressure that goes with it so that a child can really concentrate on learning what you are teaching. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay if it’s hard. It’s okay to practice again and again for months. It’s okay to backslide. Progress is the most important part. How freeing! How exactly like what I think already about education!
I’m going to be looking at other behaviors that drive me crazy and see what I can to do train them away!
Did I Miss Anything
Did I miss a question or concern you have? Let me know in the comments and I will try and answer it for you.
This post is based on the work of Amy McCready. Visit her blog http://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/ for more detailed information on child training and bedtimes.