Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Adventures in Sleep Training

We have reached a major milestone! Miss E, my first born, my daughter of four years and four months, is sleeping through the night!

Quite an accomplishment. It only took her just about four years longer than her peers to do. But hey - that’s my Miss E all over - does things her own way, and in her own time.

I shouldn’t really claim that she’s sleeping all the way through the night. She isn’t quite, but the advances we’ve seen at night are close enough and the quality of my sleep has improved so much she might as well be sleeping all the way through.

Miss E has always been a lousy sleeper. She woke frequently at night as an infant and I, like every mother, instinctively got up, fed her, and settled her back to sleep. As she got older - she still woke frequently, and I did find myself asking ‘shouldn’t this baby be sleeping through the night by now?’ Being a breastfed baby was always the reason offered as to why she wasn’t. None of my friends had nursed their babies and their formula fed babies were in blissful slumber while my lassie was up for milk and shenanigans several times a night. I accepted this as the consequence of my choice to exclusively breastfeed and I was happy enough with that assuming that eventually she’d get it and sleep all night.

A first time mother - I knew no better. Having what we knew very early on was a ‘demanding’ child - I should have known better.

We let a habit develop into her toddler years, and into the preschool stage where Miss E was up several times a night. Looking for a drink, not wanting to be on her own, claiming fear of the dark.

Miss E started scaling her crib and managed to get out at 18 months - after a few successful but fraught with danger escape attempts, we transferred her to a 'big girl's bed' shortly afterwards.
A beautiful big girl's bed - but not enticing enough it seemed to keep our girl in there all night.

Nightlights, background noise, leaving the door open - we tried it all - nothing worked and every.single.night Miss E landed in our bed.
Too tired to face a battle of wills in the dead of night - we allowed her in thinking she needed the reassurance and sure, what harm was it doing?

The bigger Miss E got, the less room we all had. Regularly she would bring some of her friends in with her!

The more she kicked and lashed out in discomfort - the harder it was for either of her parents to get anything resembling a decent night’s sleep.

Meanwhile, her brother two years her junior - also exclusively breastfed was sleeping all the way through the night - 12 hours straight since he was about 6 or 7 months old - so that blew our original excuses out of the water!

Knowing that Miss E was in this bad habit didn’t make it any easier to break it.

We started off with a two part plan. I should explain that connected to this lousy sleep habit was the fact that actually going to bed was a huge battle as well. Our plan was that we’d deal with the going to bed part first - and tackle the night wakings (and wanderings) later. About nine months ago we got all Supernanny on Miss E and enforced a strict bedtime, a strict bedtime routine and after about 5 nights of prolonged screaming - we were dealing with a child who was settling herself off to sleep with minimal fuss by 7:30 each night! With a few blips following our trip to Ireland, and around Christmas time where we seemed to regress - she has been doing great - and is off to bed with nothing more than the normal stalling tactics that every kid pulls - nothing we can’t manage and settle within a few minutes.

The second part of the plan? The victim of procrastination. And laziness. Who wants to have a fight with their kid in the middle of the night? When it literally stings your eyes to open them and handle a disgruntled child, apt to burst into a flailing tempest of indignation at any attempt we might make to settle her back in her own bed.

My kid is 42 inches long, and 42lbs. We have a queen sized bed. Arms and legs flung in the dark of night landing square in your guts will motivate like nothing else I’ve known. Enough was enough - and into her own bed she was going whether she liked it or not.

Thinking back to my experience of potty training her - I was pretty sure if I could find the right motivator - reward, heck call it what it is - BRIBE - I’d probably get her to stay in her own bed. The carrot and stick approach has worked for us before - I just had to figure out what to use this time.

Our city has just opened a fabulous new park. A real testament to the power of mothers - this park is the realization of a dream of two local mothers with special needs kids who felt there weren’t enough areas where able bodied and physically challenged kids could play alongside each other. This park is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The equipment and layout so perfectly designed - it’s every kid’s dream come true.

Miss E, Jay and I had a short visit to this park and Miss E was absolutely DYING to get back. I had my carrot - and struck a deal with Miss E that if she could show me that she could stay all night in her own bed - we’d take her back to the park.

Miss E, shockingly, immediately accepted this deal and knew that when we had seven ticks (check marks) on the calendar - that we’d be going to the park the next day.
Worked like a charm!

She did continue to wake up during the night - and she did protest being put back in her bed - but much less than we had expected. She knew her access to that cool park was completely dependent on her staying put.

We started this in the middle of January - and touch wood - it’s going REALLY well! Miss E still wakes up at least once a night - and comes to our room - but one of us escorts her right back to her bed, tucks her in and she (and we) get to go straight back to sleep.

To any of you reading this post that might be thinking ‘duh, you should have done this when she was a baby’, I agree - we should have. Who knows why we avoid what is patently obvious - sometimes it takes us a bit longer to ‘get’ what other parents have been doing all along. Maybe we’re just masochists - we have to learn things the hard way!

To those of you reading that might have a toddler or a preschooler with the bad habits Miss E had - I say grab the bull by the horns and do what you have to do to sleep train them. Your child will sleep better, and so will you!

I have no doubt that better sleep is what’s helping me lift my mood lately.

If you’ve successfully sleep trained a child - share your tips here - who knows, sharing a success story here or there could help another exhausted parent!


Pgoodness said...

I was totally not blessed with good sleepers.

My 3 yo still wakes through the night - he mostly stays in his own bed, but sometimes still wants to come to the "big bed" He's getting a lot better, so the few and far between nights are ok with me.

Our problem has actually been juice in the middle of the night - apparently we substituted his bottle for a sippy cup a couple of years ago and never fixed it.

We've been bribing with matchbox cars - our 5 yo would STILL wake in the middle of the night for juice, too. Hes doing a ton better.

We tried the sleep training when they were babies - my 3yo would just cry until he puked. :(

We reached a milestone today though - my 5yo got up, got dressed, came downstairs and turned on the tv all by himself - he wanted to let me sleep in! AW!!!!

Iota said...

Good for you!

Phase 2 could be another visit to the park if she puts herself back to bed, rather than you having to do it. And Phase 3, another visit, if she doesn't come into your room at all!

Having had 3 kids, my only advice re sleep training is to keep trying different things until one of them works. Each child is different, and each parent is different. So don't be seduced by the method that everyone swears by. It might work for you, it might not.

And if you need more sleep, and can't change their habits, change your own. Go to bed early!

Anonymous said...

I never had kids, but if I did I would have expected them to sleep like cats. This is reason 456 I never had kids. ~Mary

Jenn Sugg said...

Finally someone that shares my pain. My son has never been a good sleeper either - I say that just as he comes down from his room for the fifth time tonight! Argh! The key is standing your ground. But I'm with you - it's nearly impossible when you're sleep deprived, exhausted, stressed... It's the only way though.

Congratulations! It's an amazing accomplishment. I love that quite time at night... when it happens. It's a constant journey.

Momo Fali said...

I'm surprised you were able to execute this plan, because if I were you I'd have been OUT OF MY MIND by now! Congratulations! You deserve some rest!

Smalltowngirl said...

I have a 4 1/2 year old that sounds just like Miss E!! It was such a change because my 1st slept completely throught the night at 7 weeks (of course we thought WE were doing everything right)-- then baby #2 came along and...what a change! I am so happy things are going well- things are better around here too (for us the big boy bed really helped!)--