Two weeks ago, while Lizzie was getting her PJs on in anticipation of bedtime, she inadvertently fell asleep for a minute or two. Though I would have chosen simply to lift her up into her bed to let her sink further into dreamland, Seth took it upon himself to shout in her ear to wake her up...thinking that it was necessary for her to be wearing her pajamas (this from the boy who wore clothes to bed in the orphanage). Great.
As a result of her little cat nap and the rude awakening, Lizzie simply could not fall back to sleep - a very unusual occurrence for our little I-could-go-to-sleep-at-6:30pm-every-night girl. She was beside herself, crying, while she lay there in bed. I sat with her for about twenty minutes, stroking and comforting her, but Geoff was away overnight and I needed to start getting the boys ready for bed, too. So I told Lizzie that I would be back every five minutes to check on her. She was inconsolable, and kept shrieking that she didn't want to go to sleep and that she wanted to stay up late to play like a big kid would.
Fast forward two hours. The boys were long since sleeping, but Lizzie was still crying. She was utterly exhausted, but weeping loudly and still screaming that she wanted to stay up late and play. I combined long periods of sitting and cuddling her with periods when I left the room and checked on her every 3-5 minutes. Her relentless demands were beginning to drive me more than a little crazy. I knew that if I didn't think of something soon, or if she didn't fall asleep soon, I was going to lose my marbles and do/say something I'd regret.
So I got myself ready for bed and then went back into Lizzie's room. I asked if she still wanted to stay up late and play. She emphatically screamed "yes." I said that I'd changed my mind and that she was welcome to go downstairs and play. I told her that everyone else would be in bed, sleeping or trying to sleep but that she was welcome to go downstairs to play. Her crying stopped instantly and she said, more than a little suspiciously, "really?"
"Really," I said, a little testily. "You can either play downstairs while the rest of us sleep, or you can lie quietly in your bed here resting until you fall asleep. But just to be clear, if you are playing downstairs you are by yourself; if you are lying in bed, you are quiet. It is your choice."
She beelined out of there almost before I'd finished my sentence. Practically ran downstairs. I'd left a couple of lights on for her, but I knew full well that she would be bored being down there by herself. She's too social a little girl to last long on her own. I climbed into my bed and waited, watching the clock.
Four minutes later, I heard her climbing the stairs and pushing her bedroom door open. Silence. I got up and went to check on her. She was just climbing into bed. I asked her what was up and she said, "Mommy, I don't like playing by myself when you and Seth and Matthew are sleeping. I think I'll lie in bed. Quietly." I tucked her in, told her that I loved her, and kissed her good night. I said I'd be back in five minutes to check on her.
When I went back to do my check, she was fast asleep. Thank God.
Despite the title of this post, I don't frankly know how brilliant that strategy really was, and I'm sure parenting experts could pick it apart for all of its flaws. But my thought was that when you have a child/children as determined as mine is/are, sometimes giving them exactly what they want can bring about the desired outcome anyway. And when Lizzie announced the next night that she didn't like crying at bed time and would be going to sleep quietly, I pumped my fist in the air and felt, in that moment, brilliant.