Sarah, my youngest, has been a pretty easy kid to raise thus far.
As parents to two much-older teenagers, we’ve done this all before. Nothing she has pulled has caused much of a reaction. Typical toddler manipulations such as bedtime busters (“I need a drink of water!”, “One more story?”, “Lay with me?”) have fallen on deaf ears. What makes us even more immune to coercion are the two teenage “mini-moms” who efficiently jump in to co-parent as needed.
Sarah slept through the night at an early age, eats an adequate diet and uses the potty effectively. We thought we were smooth-sailing straight through puberty — until now.
Two months ago, Sarah decided she needed to come in our bed every night between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. It started with a nightmare or two, so we coddled and soothed her. She must’ve really liked that.
For weeks, she would wake up in the wee hours of morning and lay in her bed screaming, as if she were having a terrifying dream. I’m a light sleeper and would run to her immediately. Whether I believed she was scared or not, I tried to keep her from waking up the whole house.
The easiest course of action was to relent and bring her in our bed, but she spins like the hands on a clock when she sleeps. Even a king-sized bed wasn’t big enough to protect me from her squirming. As soon as she started the nightly drama, I was done. My day had begun.
I began walking through my days exhausted and resentful. After several miserable mornings where I seethed about being the only one she was disturbing, my husband tried to take the bullet.
“Sarah, when you’re scared, don’t scream or wake Mommy. Come to my side of the bed and I’ll help you.” She still ended up in between us, squirming and kicking away while he snored peacefully.
I thought hard and jogged my memory back to when my older girls pulled this. Maybe they were a year or two older, but I seemed to remember punishing them. They were welcome in my bed, but that meant that the following day would include zero television or Nintendo DS time. It had worked really well.
But I was reluctant to go this route with Sarah. For one thing, I’m just gentler with her. I had my first two children very close in age and needed to be tougher as a survival strategy. My heart is bigger in my later years of parenting. That, plus I felt that removal of TV or electronic privileges for Sarah would actually punish all of us. “Paw Patrol” and “PJ Masks” are awesome babysitters when there are chores to be done.
Then it hit me: reward her! I went out and bought an assortment of tiny little toys. She would be told that, on any morning that she made it through the night in her own bed, she would get a prize. It was going to cost me, but at this point I was willing to trade cash for sleep.
A month in and our plan has about a 75 percent effectiveness rating. An added bonus is that she is so enamored with whatever little trinket she got that morning, she is busy and engaged with it all day long. I guess we’ll keep this up until she learns a new sleep habit, or we go broke.