Monday, August 13, 2012

Brilliance Born out of Desperation.

July 31'12
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.


  1. Sounds like something I would do - the whole bit. I find it hard to "pick an approach" because I seem to have three of the most non-textbook children ever born (and never once have they changed future behaviour based on past experiences, that I can recall, even when personal injury or extreme fright have been the direct result of their actions - the whole cause/effect thing seems to be lost on them, and I never realized how insanely difficult it would be to parent children who seem to have that particular problem. I keep crossing my fingers that they hopefully have some capacity to gain that ability...or else, yikes...). So I may be just a teensy bit jealous of Lizzie's insight the next night...

    Lil is currently in a bedtime-resistant stage, and we have tried (for a number of nights on end) lying with her to ease any new anxieties (but she plays with my unresponsive face & body for over an hour at a time...or eventually falls asleep and then wakes as soon as I attempt to creep out on our creaky old wood floors), or having Geoff tend to her (worked like a charm for months on end, but she will have none of that now - and will scream until she hyperventilates if he shows up in my stead). Once she is worked up she will scream for ages on her own on the floor in front of me, or scream harder and pull away for ages if I pick her up - so avoiding that scenario at all costs between 11:00pm and 7:00am is preferable. Sometimes doing a "second bedtime" will do the trick, but if allowed, she would stay up for hours past anyone's reasonable sleeping hour. Glad things worked out well in this instance!

  2. Nice work, Ruth! I love the plan and how it panned out, though I could just hear my five year old screaming, "But I can't play downstairs by myself, I'm too scared!" Cue more crying. I'm totally into giving kids what they want/need when that's workable and not getting overly tied down to rules.
    I can recall one time years ago when my oldest was bawling uncontrollably essentially because he was afraid he wouldn't get enough of the drink we were all sharing. In total desperation I handed him the bottle and said, "Drink as much of this as you possibly can." (I mean really, how much can a two year old hold?) He immediately calmed down, drank feverishly for about ten seconds, then handed the bottle back about 3/4s full. He was totally satisfied and there was plenty left for everyone else. A rare mommy coup. Now, if I had your kids, the drink would have been gone and we'd be camping out in the Costco biffy! I guess the moral of the story is Know Thy Kids!
    Thanks for the heads up on the Ethiopian Pavillion - We may just try it out!

  3. Thx guys...I LOVE reading your stories/trials!