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'My Daughter Refuses to Stay in Bed'

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Hi Catherine!

My daughter is two-and-a-half, and I am almost 36 weeks pregnant. My daughter, Lilly, has been in a big girl bed since about mid-September. Everything was going swimmingly for about three weeks and then all of a sudden one day, she just wouldn't take a nap. She refused to stay in bed, and after a couple of nights of this we discovered the only way to get her to sleep was to stay in the room until she was fast asleep. So that's what we did. And that is what we are still doing.

Bedtime routine includes 10-15 minutes of cartoons, reading 2-3 books, and singing a couple of songs. Then it's time to lay down, mommy or daddy sits in the chair in her room until she falls asleep.

The problem with this is she doesn't just lay down and fall asleep. She wants another book, another song, etc. I think the time has come that she doesn't need us to sit in her room for an hour until she is dead asleep. I don't fancy the idea of this process still being where it is when I am home alone every night with a toddler who won't go to bed, and a newborn. Nap time is the same process, but about half as long.

I hope that you have some wonderful suggestions for me, I am truly at a loss.

Thank you so much,

Sack Time

Dear Sack Time,

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic and panic stricken, WE HAVE GOT TO GET A GRIP ON THIS LILLY SITUATION. I moved your letter to the top of my stack because you have a time bomb (totally precious and cute, don't get me wrong) strapped to your abdomen.

Maybe I'm projecting a little, and if you end up doing things like experiencing temporary paralysis from necessary yet preposterous contortions to fit in Lilly's tiny bed, hiring someone to lie in her room while she falls asleep, and eventually moving your bed into her room because, well, it's just easier—you will survive. I did. Many other moms did, too. Most, in fact.

I've a hunch that you will be fine, not only because various Frenchies have shown me the possibilities, but also because Lilly proved for three weeks that she can do it.

However, it will be soooooo much cooler for you to just announce le bedtime and be done with it twenty minutes later. It may be hard at first, but it'll be so worth it. I got French with sleep lamentably late in the game (my youngest was already three by the time I really laid down the law), and I still feel like I've won the lottery every time I walk away from my girls' room after a seamless bedtime. Honestly, I often go into the living room and do a little Snoopy dance right after my kids go down for the night. I've a hunch that you will be fine, not only because various Frenchies have shown me the possibilities, but also because Lilly proved for three weeks that she can do it.

Here's what I suggest:

1) Explain to Lilly that there are "Bedtime Rules." I hated being the bad guy, so I always tried to sympathize with my kids and said things like, "I know, it stinks. But it's the rule and there’s nothing I can do. We can't break the rules." I never really pointed out that I'd made them—and thankfully they never questioned. Feel free to be less spineless (read: more French) with this one.

2) If Lilly wants to read multiple books and watch cartoons, that's fine—but it'll have to be done before bedtime. At bedtime, her job (everyone has jobs, too!) is to brush her teeth, put on her pajamas and get in bed. Your job is to read one book (bonus if you include the rule that you pick the book), sing one song, and leave. It might help to make bedtime a little later when you first start to make sure she's good and tired.

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3) Here's where it's going to get hard, and I imagine that Lilly will spaz out a bit the first few nights. Hang in there, lady. Eyes on the prize and all that. Lilly must stay in her room (it's the rule, after all), and if she doesn't I'm afraid that you are going to have to bar the door. When I was first given this advice I thought, "No way. Not safe. Too mean. I would never." But then a French mom asked me, "What? Does she keep knives in her room? She will be safe. You are doing your child—and the family—a favor by teaching them how to go to bed." (By the way, if you keep knives in Lilly's room, skip this step.) Assuming you don't keep sharp objects in there, the lesson here is that if Lilly wants the door unlocked and/or open, she must stay in bed.

4) Stay strong. After a few nights, Little Lilly will see that these rules are, indeed, unbreakable, and that it's futile to resist. If she finds her way to your bed in the middle of the night, give her a kiss and send her back to her own. Soon enough, bedtime will become a beautiful thing.

The real carrot is getting Lilly sorted so that when No. 2 joins the party, you can work on training him in peace. You may want to try doing something similar at nap time, but I wouldn't worry as much about the midday routine.

I'm so worked up right now that I'm going to go toast with my husband to the day we finally got both of our children to go to sleep in the same room at the same time . . . knowing they wouldn't be making an appearance in our bed later in the night. I'm confident you will be similarly stoked soon enough. Best of luck. Really.

Sleep tight!


Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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