Monday, May 7, 2007

Bedtime Routine

Despite having read Elizabeth Pantley's No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers (which I highly recommend) and having implemented many of the strategies she suggests for ending bedtime battles (as well as trying some other tactics), I still have a little insomniac on my hands. This nocturnal child not only takes a long, long, long time to fall asleep, but she's also waking up frequently at night. Naps are on the short side (usually no longer than an hour), if they happen at all. I've moved up her bedtime. I've added one extra step to her bedtime routine to help my fidgety wiggle worm learn to relax. I tell her a story about the "Land of Nod," a magical place blanketed in colorful flowers with cotton candy clouds in the sky that you can actually pull clumps off of and eat. There are ladybugs (Madeline loves ladybugs), puppies frolicking in fields (she's already a dog person) and butterflies flitting about (who doesn't like butterflies?). The only catch is she can only visit the "Land of Nod" once she falls asleep in her big-girl bed. Part of the story includes me helping her to relax and "melt" each body part into her soft, comfy bed.

My narrative might go something like this: "Madeline's feet are so tired from taking a walk with Mommy and running around at Gymboree [Play & Music], so she stretches them and slowly, slowly, slowly they sink into the bed and fall asleep." I end with her closing her eyes and waking up in the enticing "Land of Nod." At this point, I've almost hypnotized myself into a half-awake state. Yet, Madeline, while often still, continues to stare at the ceiling, nibbling on her fingernails. Then she asks me to rub her back, rub her belly and rub her neck, so I do until my hand and arm ache. Then I tuck her in and kiss her good-night and sit next to her door and wait...and wait...and wait. If I leave she immediately follows me. I tried following the advice to simply put your child back to bed with a simple, "It's bedtime. Good night." The experts said to be consistent and it might take a few nights of doing this 20 times or so. I lost count at 67 times the first night. We tried it again for a few nights with the same results, so I've decided to just sit by her door for now rather than trotting down the halls with a stubborn toddler in my arms.

Today we started her bedtime routine at 6:42. She wasn't conked out until after 9 p.m. I've even crafted a clever bedtime chart with her help that includes photos of her getting ready for bed and all the steps of our nightly routine. The good news is this has cut back on some of her stalling techniques. Tonight she asked me to push a toy car with her, but I told her to look at her bedtime chart and that it didn't include rolling a car. We'd have to save that activity for tomorrow. She uttered a minor protest, but it was short-lived and we were back to her routine.

I remain hopeful that we'll continue to make strides in our sleep struggles. I can't really complain. She's still her happy, delightful self, although small, typical toddler outbursts do test my patience more than they used to. Honestly, I'd be exhausted even if I wasn't tending to my little night owl. Being 33 weeks pregnant is zapping its share of my energy and my endless need to pee keeps me from getting long stretches of uninterrupted sleep even when Madeline does happen to find the "Land of Nod" and stay there for more than a couple of hours. But it's all worth it. Just tonight I was telling a friend that even though I am dead-tired and sometimes question this whole mothering vocation, I still want more children. Being a mom is what I was meant to do, even if I have to do it in a sleepy haze.

At any rate, here's a look at our current bedtime routine. I do recommend making a bedtime chart to help end or at least mitigate bedtime battles. I just took snapshots of Madeline during each step of her bedtime routine one evening and then made a colorful posterboard showing each step.

1. Wash up (in shower, bath or with washcloth).
2. Put on PJs.
3. Brush teeth.
4. Drink some water.
5. Go potty.
6. Read some books.
7. Pray.
8. Tuck Maddy in and tell her a story or sing a song. (This is where I weave a tale about the "Land of Nod" and give her a backrub.)
9. Sleepy time! Maddy drifts off to sleep.

Here are the photos I used, but for some reason they won't "publish" in the right order.

NOTE: Experts recommend your child's entire bedtime routine should last about an hour. We're working on cutting ours down by a few 120 minutes or so...

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