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This bedtime battle has been won (for now)

April 5, 2011 - Betsy Bethel
This is a followup to my last post about the "nameless fear" that was wreaking havoc on bedtime at our house.

First, let me say, the tsunami wasn't the culprit after all. We sat Emma down the night I wrote that last post, and I asked her point blank if she was frightened of the tsunami and assured her no tsunami was ever going to wash us or our house away. "I know that!" she said, totally unfazed. Back to square one.

Things got worse before they got better. It was to the point last Monday night that I was ready to wave the white flag and let our 5-year-old daughter sleep in our bed -- which in turn would have ignited a firestorm from an already smoldering heap of bitterness growing between my husband and me.

But Tuesday I awoke with renewed resolve. I did some research — I found the chapter titled "The ABCs on Getting ZZZss" in Thomas M. Riemer's new book "Help! There's a Toddler in the House!" (BoysTown Press) quite useful. While nothing Dr. Reimers said was completely new information to me, he did galvanize my approach and reminded me of a few useful tips such as the "I'll-check-on-you-in-five-minutes" tactic. I also talked at length on the phone with my mother, who is a child and family counselor and teaches parenting classes. To her credit, she only gives advice when asked, and this time I didn't just ask, I begged, cried and pleaded! She suggested that my husband and I handle the entire bedtime routine together, presenting a united front. Usually, I was the master of bedtime and Daddy popped in briefly to listen to a story and say goodnight. After he left, I would remain to pray and sing songs. During this most recent campaign, Daddy was tagged to tell her a story "from his head" after I left the room. When he finished his story, Emma said she wanted me again — so she was in effect tag-teaming us and the whole brutal process dragged on.

That evening, Tuesday, I set the stage by mentioning matter-of-factly to Emma that all these nights she has been scared but that, guess what? Nothing bad ever happened! Not one bad thing! She paused, looked thoughtful and proclaimed: "Yeah! You're right!" After the bath regimen was complete, I approached bedtime coolly and confidently. I told her exactly what was going to happen. Dave was there the whole time. I read two books, he read one. We turned out the light, prayed, sang three songs and then Daddy and I both kissed her goodnight and left the room. The only concessions I made were to tell her I'd check on her in two minutes and that we'd leave her door open. She barely put up a fight. When I checked on her, she was awake, and I told her I'd come back in five minutes. I never had to; she quickly succumbed to sleep. I did a victory dance and texted my mom: "You're a genius!"

The next night was a little complicated because she bonked her head really hard that day at school, so I was feeling a little less confident and a mite more overprotective. But we followed the same routine. And for the first night in I can't remember how long, the words "I'm scared" never passed Emma's lips. When I checked on her at the two-minute mark, she rolled her eyes at me and said, "Mooommmm, it takes me, like, 15 minutes to fall asleep!" I told her I'd come back in five, and she said: "Come back in 15! Then I'll be asleep!" All-righty then. I never went back that night. The battle was over.

Ever since then, the bedtime drill has been pretty smooth. We have had a hiccup or two — she has gotten out of bed a couple times, for instance, which she NEVER did before. But she also has gone back to bed when told, without me having to come up and tuck her in again, which also is new (and, might I add, glorious!).

A few days later when I was telling my mom all this, she said, "These phases are a real pain, aren't they?" Yes, but all I can say is, thank God they are only phases.


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