You know that thing, where life
has a way of biting you in the ass when you get too cocky? I think it’s called
karma? Yeah… I’ve got a fair amount of experience with that. Particularly
when it comes to parenting.
Take, for instance, my daughter's sleeping habits. From the time she was born, my little girl was a perfect
sleeper. She was sleeping through the night by six weeks old, putting herself to
sleep (with no rocking or interference from me) around four-and-a-half months, and
she could consistently be relied upon to sleep in until 9 or 10 AM until fairly
Yes, I was blessed. I never even had
to consider sleep training—my kid was just an awesome sleeper, all on her
own. And while I recognized that this mostly had nothing at all to do with me, I also got a bit cocky
about it being a forever thing. I was convinced that my awesome
sleeper would never change.
To be fair, that change didn’t
affect her sleeping patterns at first. In fact, I might have gloated just a bit
about my 2-year- old who would remain playing happily in her bed every morning until I came to get her.
Then came the day when she
realized that being out of the crib meant she had free access to roam. Ever since, getting my little girl to stay in
her bed at bedtime has been a battle.
There were nights she would come
into my room 15, 20, 25 times after I initially tucked her in. She was suddenly
staying up hours past her bedtime, and even if she wasn’t hassling me, she was
playing in her room like the lights had never been turned out.
I was at a loss. What’s a mama who
has always had a good sleeper supposed to do?
First, because it was
summertime in Alaska (meaning, the sun can often be up until midnight) I
invested in both blackout blinds and blackout curtains. Because you can never
be too thorough with the blackout products.
When that didn’t seem to make a
difference, I got her a GoodNite Lite.
I’d had friends rave about this thing, a nightlight that changes to a moon when
kids should be in bed and to a sun when it’s time to wake up. It’s a visual cue
that actually did help to keep her in bed in the morning—she was no longer
coming into my room at 5 AM to ask if it was time to wake up. But for some
reason, the moon did not have anywhere near the same affect on her at night.
She was still pretty much
convinced bedtime was for wussies.
The next piece of advice I
found online explained I should sit outside her bedroom and direct her back to
bed, with no words or cuddles, as many times as it took. According to
this advice, if I was truly committed, my daughter would learn she needed to
stay in her bed after just a few nights.
A week later, we were both
exhausted. She had decided this whole thing was a game, and had taken to leaving
her room just to make sure I was still right there.
That was when a friend
suggested the bedtime
pass program. As she explained it, you give your kids a pass that allows
them to leave their bed one time for any reason. Because they know they only
have that one chance, she told me, most kids are more likely to save it and not
use it at all.
I was skeptical. What toddler,
after all, has the impulse control to understand the concept of saving?
And I realized that having the freedom to leave her own room just wasn’t
something my little girl could handle.
I also wanted to know what you
were supposed to do if they used the ticket and then came out of their room
again anyway. My friend stared at me blankly. “Well… they don’t.” She
Again, I was skeptical.
But, we made the pass, my
daughter and I coloring and laminating it together. I gave it to her that
night with the instructions that she could only use it one time, so she should
save it for when she really needed
Five seconds after I walked out
of her room, she walked out behind me… pass in hand.
For the record, I tried with
that damn pass for over six months. The concept of saving it never once sunk in.
Nor was she especially great about recognizing she had already used her ticket
when she wanted to leave her room again.
One night a few months after
her 3rd birthday, I grew especially frustrated. This kid of mine was
leaving her room every 30 seconds, and I’d had enough. “If you leave your room
one more time,” I threatened, “I am taking your Zoey away.”
Zoey is her favorite lovey from
when she was a baby. She still sleeps with that thing in her mouth every night.
I was sure this threat would stick.
It didn’t. And the next thing I
knew, I was threatening to take one possession of hers away every time she left
Three nights later, her room
was completely bare. My oh-so-smart 3-year-old had again decided this was a
game, and she had taken to walking out of her room with a toy in hand to give
to me. She didn’t flinch when I threw it all in trash bags and walked it out the
front door. She smiled at the window and waved as I carried it all to the
Something weird did click on
that third night, though, just when I had been prepared to give up. For reasons
I can’t even explain, she suddenly decided it wasn’t a game anymore, and
started staying in her room. Slowly (very slowly) I began giving her prized
possessions back… one item for every night she stayed in bed. When her room was
packed full of toys and stuffed animals again, I thought for sure we had kicked
the leaving the bed habit.
Sure, I could have started
taking her toys away again. But you know what? I hated that punishment! It
meant she had no loveys to self-soothe with at night or in the mornings, and no
toys to play with during the day… which meant she was relying on me 100 percent for
And so, I put up a gate.
right, I gate my child into her bedroom every night. And you know what? She
stays in there now.
I’ll admit to not loving this
solution (and to taking the gate back down every night once she’s finally
asleep because… what if there were a fire?) But I kept waiting for my kid to
figure out it was her responsibility to stay in bed, and that just wasn’t
We tried everything. None of it
stuck. And I realized that having the freedom to leave her own room just wasn’t
something my little girl could handle.
Interestingly enough, she still
stays in her room great in the morning until her nightlight turns to a sun. I
have no idea why that works as a deterrent in the mornings when it never did at
night. But whatever… it’s a small win I’ll take.
Maybe someday, we’ll actually
be able to lose the gate at night too.