Last night my two-and-a-half year old came traipsing down the stairs with her father 30 minutes after bed time. My husband declared that she didn't want to go to bed and assumed that I had let her nap too long so that she just wasn't tired (which was not the case even though it may have been true the day before). We were entering the dangerous territory that we had entered when our son was the same age and which set us up for nearly three years of horrible bedtime habits with him. I could only envision fighting with my daughter every night from here on out if I didn't march her right back up to her room. What ensued was both horrible and gratifying at the same time.
Read More: 5 Habits I Wish I Never Let My Kids Develop The Battle
I carried her up to her bed. She tried to get out. I put her back in. This happened about five times. We gave her an ultimatum in which she lost her baby doll that she slept with because she got out of bed again. (I struggled with this because I don't believe in taking their security blankets away from them as punishment, but stay tuned.) My husband left the room with her baby doll and I blocked the door so that she couldn't get out. She was mad! But I picked her up and while she kicked and screamed, I tried to get her to tell me the real problem and I didn't dare let her go.
At this point all she really wanted was the baby doll back. I told her if she got into the bed she could have her back, and so she got into the bed and I lay down next to her and my husband brought her the doll. Before you knew it we were having a calm conversation and she was talking about her day and a few minutes later she was sound asleep.
The Many Benefits of Winning the Battle
This was not a fun 10 or 15 minutes for us, and I hated taking her doll away from her, but I am certain that staying calm, giving her choices, and not letting her leave her room will lead to a child who will go to bed more easily than her brother who we battled with every night for so long because we used to let him stay up just a little longer. With him we also dealt with him coming into our room in the middle of the night. I was pregnant and working and even though I knew I should put him right back in his room every time he did it, all I wanted to do was sleep so I'd let him crawl into our bed. As a result I just had a lot of nights of bad sleep instead of a few nights while teaching him that he needed to stay in his room. Luckily he now falls asleep and stays asleep thanks to the exhaustion of kindergarten.
Giving kids choices and having consequences to their choices is important, even at bed time when it's so easy for everyone to snuggle in together or to let them stay up just a few minutes later. Of course, we don't want to see them upset, but it is important that we remain the ones in control (even when we are exhausted and it's so much easier to give in at the end of the day) rather than let them see just how much further they can push us to get what they want even when they are very young. It's also important to remember that sometimes kids forget what they are truly upset about. Using the power of distraction can bring them back down to a common ground so that you can re-engage in productive conversation and get the result you are looking for and what's best for them.
I'm sure that won't be the last time we have to do that, but we're setting the precedent that bed time is bed time and even if she's not asleep yet, she's expected to stay in her bed. And it is so much easier to create good habits than it is to break bad habits.
This post was written by Sarah Fernandez.
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