Hello! I’ll be your child sleep guru. Leave your exhaustion and frustrations at the door because I’m here to help!
First a little about me. I’m a once proud man who has given himself over fully to parenthood. I’m a tad too heavy (actually it ranges from a tad to “grossly,” but that’s just a medical term) and happier for learning how to cry and doing it 5-7 nights a week.
But don’t fret, these are tears of exhaustion and we all know there are different kinds of crying. I have very little sorrow these days and a great deal of joy (and exhaustion—did I mention exhaustion?).
Like most parents we struggled with getting our children on a sleep schedule.
There were tired, sleep deprived days and restless, exhausting nights. We struggled. But eventually we found ourselves in a routine of sorts. I don’t really know how, but there were a few months, I think, a couple winters back, maybe, when we were done and the house was cleaned up (a relative status during these early years) by say, 9 o’clock. These were the glory days. But then we did what any smart parents would do and changed who put who to bed. I mean, I wanted some time with the little one and she was missing the big one, so we switched it up. Shouldn’t be a big deal, but they disagreed. Both of them. So, there we were pulling our hair out. Trying over and over to get them to accept going to bed alone. Together. Apart. Whatever. Nope.
Then we figured it out. Here it is. The failproof plan for getting your kids to sleep.
- First things first. Have a healthy late afternoon snack. I find this is a good time to reward positive behavior with sugar. It’s not that I don’t get the dangers, it’s just they love it so much and surely they’ve sat still or played together or at the very least spent a portion of time not hitting anyone or throwing anything. That kind of self control deserves a reward. Besides, bedtime is far enough off for them to really be able to burn off anything you might give them. Salty processed snacks work as well.
- Ease into dinner with some screen time Nothing big, but mine are 5 and 3. Perhaps they can do it on the deck. Get some fresh air.
- Get the table ready for a good old fashioned family dinner At least that way they will have a sense that there is another way, not plopped on couches in front of the TV. Occasionally me and the Mrs. even sit at the table al0ne and catch up. It’s nice. Plus nothing goes with nuggets quite like Octonauts and Lego Batman programs.
- After dinner let’s all go to our separate corners After you’ve devolved into trading m&m’s for bites of string beans there’s a natural tension that needs to be released. We tend to hide in the kitchen gorging on the m&m’s they didn’t earn while they go slightly banana’s in the living room and backyard.
- Now that we’ve all calmed down let’s bribe them into a bath This works about 50% of the time. Frankly they’ve developed enough methods to get all the rewards they could want and by now they usually are tired of candy.
- Sure. It’s 8:30. Let’s get one more show in.
- Okay. I blew that one. I should have been putting on PJ’s and brushing teeth… But on the bright side I’m all caught up on Facebook. One more show. A quiet one.
- Okay, NOW I’m all caught up on Facebook. Final show, Sarah and Duck, it’s the right thing for bedtime. I will skip over the professional wrestling moves often incorporated in subduing a 3 year old to brush his teeth. He’s stronger than you can imagine.
- Hit the sheets. And of course by that I mean we bunker down, literally lying in bed with them. Some will say this is not the right way. Many actually. That’s all.
- Bathroom. Can’t say no and we don’t want them wetting the bed Also, we have one who has made it his strategy to power down as many liquids as possible at about eight. It’s just good policy to let him go when he asks.
- Lie in bed with them as they wear themselves out with a thousand stuffed animals that they only play with in bed. As I read this I’m starting to wonder why we even keep them. At the very least we shouldn’t keep them in their room. I’m pretty sure I have this thought every night.
- Snap. Yell. Bark at your three year old that you’ve had enough. GO TO SLEEP. The predictable tears are the worst because it was your own lack of self control that brought them. Now you are both emotional wrecks. Kids recover quicker. This becomes the guilt and shame that weighs your shoulders down and gives you cravings for ice cream
- Apologize. Make boundaries. One big stuffed dog and one more animal. And that’s it.
- Buckle under and allow them all the stuffed animals they want.
- Cry in the dark. As long as you control your own breathing they shouldn’t notice.
- Fall asleep while they play in the bed. Let’s face it, you’re exhausted anyway.
- Finally, now that you are unconscious and non responsive, somehow, they fall asleep.
- Wake up, eyes puffy from crying yourself to sleep.
- Look over and see your sleeping three year old. My goodness. He’s an angel.
- Take pride in his development. Technically he fell asleep on his own!
- Go back downstairs and cry the tearless sobs of a parent starting to clean a disaster area just before midnight. Cleaning, though annoying, will ease just enough tension to allow you to relax into a slouch on the couch in a half cleaned living room with a thing of Ben & Jerry’s or some Pringles.
- Wash it all down with a giant plastic tumbler of boxed wine.
The best designs are simple. Elegant. Give up. Give in. Eat Ice Cream. Drink wine.
The best we do so much of the time is to keep them alive and get out of the way. I’m good at the first part, still working on getting out of the way…
This essay originally appeared on Developing Dad.