The simple trick I use to stop my daughter’s bedtime stalling

Big G has always been a great sleeper. Well, after the first few months, that is. She was terrible those first few months.

I forget when it happened but at some point we would put her down in her crib and she wouldn’t fall asleep right away but she would happily entertain herself – practicing new skills or new words – until she tuckered herself out.

We had no issues when we moved her to a big girl bed either. My husband built her a house bed (literally a little house with a small door to climb in which made it a challenge for us adults to get in and out) so we started doing story time in our bed and moving to her room for a cuddle before leaving her for the night. Once we left the room she stayed put. We never dealt with the requests for water, another bathroom break, or an extra snack. She honestly never called out for us after we left her room.

Lately, though, things have gone sideways. Our almost-four-year-old is suddenly coming downstairs after we’ve put her to bed, complaining that she can’t sleep. Either that, or she stands at the top of the stairs sobbing until one of us goes up to see what’s wrong (then she says she can’t sleep).

We used to go up and scold her with a “G! You need to go to sleep!” Which usually made her more upset and started a whole new round of the “I can’t!”s.

So, I tried a trick from my own childhood. I don’t know if my parents even remember this but I certainly do. When I was having trouble sleeping my parents would tell me to change the channel in my head and think of something happy.

To be honest, it’s a trick I use to this day. If I find myself tossing and turning, stressing over something, I stop and decide what my “happy” thing will be. Sometimes I imagine I won the lottery, other times I picture my dream house with its porch swing where I have countless heartfelt discussions with my kids in their teens (because that’s going to happen … right?).

The other night we heard big G stomping down the stairs and my husband and I looked at each other, frustrated. I decided to take her back to bed and teach her my trick. I started by telling her to imagine or think about something that made her happy but that came with a big “I can’t!” and I realized it might be better to give her something specific to think about. So one night I suggested she think of things she wanted to do that week. Another night it was ideas for her birthday party (two months away). She needed a few more prompts (“Do you want to go to the library?” “What games would you like to play at your party?”) but after a couple of minutes she was on board.

It worked! Both nights I went to check on her half an hour later, as promised, and she was fast asleep. The cutest part: in the morning she came running into our room, mouth going a mile-a-minute about the great ideas she had thought of. “Mommy! I decided what we are going to do today: we are going to that big museum with the place where I can push all the buttons and make the sound and lights go.” Even cuter: “Mommy! I thought of a game for my birthday! All the kids will pass the present around and when the music stops I get to open it.” (Admit it – that game does sound kind of great for the birthday girl.)

I look forward to the days when she decides what her happy things will be, but for now it’s also fun to start the whole process with her.

P.S. – here is a photo of the super-cool bed my husband made for big G (just missing the roof. I think we need to make little flower boxes for it.)

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