Sleep. Since we first bought him home from the hospital, sleep has been our greatest challenge as parents. Three years in, and in the midst of transitioning to a toddler bed, and little has changed.
If the NSA is snooping on our Google searches right now, the most popular search they will find is “Toddler Bed Transition” or “How can I get my toddler to stay in his room?” Despite such searches, and the corresponding advice elicited and employed, we have not cracked the problem yet. After all of this I can’t help but think, the ability of our 3 year old to outsmart us is a direct correlation of the debilitating impact of sleep deprivation. After all sleep deprivation is one of the torture techniques employed at Guantanamo Bay, used because it has been medically proven to leave “a person more suggestible, reduces psychological resistance and it reduces the body’s capacity to resist pain.”
So, I am sorry to disappoint you if came to this article looking for answers. We’re not there yet. But I do have thoughts on what doesn’t work, and some ideas on what might.
THE CONSUMERIST APPROACH
This may sound obvious, particularly to our parents’ generation, but this is not a problem you can solve by buying more stuff. But both online and offline, many recommended I buy a toddler alarm clock that teaches them to go to sleep and when to wake up. Sounds amazing! In this age of convenience and instant gratification, it took seconds for me to be sold on the seduction of this seemingly magic bullet. Sadly, it took my kid all of one day, to see how the clock opened at the back and how to fiddle with the keys to reset the alarm. Rendering a $35 investment totally useless.
THE CONTAINMENT APPROACH
Some experts advise the only way to keep really obstinate toddlers at bay is to contain them by locking the door. Again some mommy or daddy entrepreneurs have designed kid proof door lockers. But the 3-star reviews spoke volumes about their efficacy. So instead we used a baby gate across the door. He couldn’t get out, we could still get in easily in case of fire or earthquake. Our inmate responded, as you might expect, with total rage, ripping pictures of the wall and jumping off furniture. Re-reading advice on the containment approach again, I realized we’d missed an important step: toddler-proofing the room. Off came the legs on the rocking chair, chest of drawers chained to the wall, removal of all items of interest or worth. I joked to one babysitter that we’d created a padded cell. Cue polite laughter and then awkward silence.
Despite the judgment, we ploughed on, because it worked. He stayed in his room until he worked out how to pile up books and heave himself over the gate. hat’s when we knew it was time to take the baby gate off the top of the stairs. For a day, I mulled over whether it was really mean to take all his books out of his room, but before I could do that, at the next nap time, he coolly lifted up the tab and opened up the child-proof’baby gate and gave me a cheeky grin. Game over.
THE CONSCIOUS DISCIPLINE APPROACH
Similar to Love & Logic, Conscious Discipline is about parenting with love and not fear. It is based on you staying cool in the face of conflict and approaching the child with skills to help them make the right choices.
- ASSERTIVENESS: “You are going to bed now.”
- CHOICES: “Would you like to sleep with the polar bear or teddy bear.”
- ENCOURAGEMENT: “You chose polar bear to nap with you.”
- EMPATHY: “I know FOMO is hard and you don’t want to go to bed. But you can handle it.”
- CONSEQUENCES “When you don’t sleep you will be angry/sad/totally annoying.”
This approach is helping in other conflict areas, like dressing, eating, cleaning up, playing with others, but when it comes to sleep, it’s not working. Although, the book has helped me shout less and be more compassionate that he’s not doing this purposefully to annoy me. Understanding that my frustration is exacerbated by the fact that I have scheduled a meeting in his nap time, and that is my problem, not his.
Discussing the sleep problem with a group of parents during a course of Conscious Discipline, their advice was sympathetic. Apparently sleep remains a problem for 6,7,9 year olds even when you can rationalize with them on the consequences of lack of sleep. (Hell, I know some workaholic 40 year olds who routinely burn the candle at both ends and get less sleep than they need to function at their best.) Their advice was simple:
THE THIS TOO WILL PASS/CONSISTENCY APPROACH
Accept your kids don’t want to nap or sleep at night. Your job is to silently return your child to their room, even if it takes 45 mins (today it took me 90 mins) and do this consistently over and over again until they stay there. It could take three days for him to embrace the new habit, it could take more. And for me this means stop seeing nap-time as me-time and any time that doesn’t involve silent redirection of a willful toddler is a bonus.
And then it hit me, for all the parenting blogs, experts and super nannies, there is no magic thing you can buy, book you can read that is going to crack sleep. The answer is just to parent consistently. Set your limits, and get up day after day and day and uphold them. It’s boring because it’s that simple, and what’s more it’s really, really hard to do. Good luck.