Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Desperation, thy name is tired Mommy

I think I've alluded to the fact that our daughter has become a grade-A terrible sleeper. If I'm being objective, which is really hard, I think it was a cumulative effect of moving + busy parents + lapsing into bad habits + being 2 1/2 years old.

Nonetheless, we have slowly found ourselves in a situation where she naps maybe once or twice a week on the days she is home, stalls stalls stalls and goes to bed late, and continues to get up early. I used to be shocked when she DIDN'T nap, and now it was the exact opposite. I thought she was really going to give up her nap and I was preparing myself for a future of "quiet time".

I talked with our Parents as Teachers educator and she confirmed my feelings that Ellen really wasn't getting enough sleep. I think kids her age need like 11-13 hours of sleep total per day, and a few days a week she was getting maybe 9. Kids get sleep deprived very fast - within probably 2 days - and we were seeing the results of that. Boy howdy.

We have been pretty lucky with the tantrum situation - lots of sass and back talk and pouting - but generally we can redirect without much issue. Last week, the terrible sleep situation resulted in a crazy child at bedtime that appeared almost possessed - shaking with anger, hitting, throwing things - it was awful. And sad. I think she felt out of control and we felt out of control without knowing how to fix it.

So, back to the books for Mama. I pulled out our Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book looking for ANY solution. I really wasn't even focused on naps, but needed to get her bedtime situation fixed. Thank you, page 325, and your Sleep Rules!

You can read the basics on Sleep Rules and Silent Return here.

This is actually very similar to the plan we used for potty training, though there is a consequence for not following the rules. Ellen responded SO well to the potty training rewards that I had high hopes (to say the least).

Prep: I made a trip to Michaels for poster board and reward trinkets / stickers. I didn't want to reward with food and totally lucked out by hitting the super clearance section of summer goodies and school goodies. I got enough rewards to fill a big box for less than $20 (art projects, chalk, bubbles, stickers, school supplies, notebooks ...). I also got some Disney princess stickers which have been a HUGE hit. We don't do much princess talk at our house, but I think they do at school and Ellen has been chatting about her princess friends. (In fact, she yelled about wanting Ariel for a long time during the tantrum from hell).

I happily talked up a group art project when Ellen saw me come home with bags of goodies. She helped me draw the 'Ellen's Sleep Rules' poster and decorated it herself. We talked through the rules and the prizes and consequences. (Follow the rules = sticker on poster, prize from box. Don't follow the rules = no sticker, no prize, no TV/iPad.)

Night #1: Bed prep as usual (books, jammies, brush teeth, into bed). I was tempted to add all these steps to the poster, but refrained. We picked a place for the poster in her room so she can see it and we talked about which princess sticker she would like to put on the poster in the morning. She repeated the rules for us and was in bed at 7:30pm, quiet by 7:35pm. This was a no-nap day, but still was the earliest she has been in bed and been quiet in FOREVER. She didn't wake at all during the night, and woke up at 6:38am, after the cow was dancing. Hallelujah!!

Nap #1: I was hopeful, yet doubtful, about how this would work for naps. We followed the exact same steps - in bed for nap about 1:45pm, up to go potty, lots of chatting in her bed, then eventually quiet at 2:45pm. I did have to go up a few times and to help her to potty, but never talked to her. I woke her at 4:30pm because I didn't want her to sleep too late, poured on the praise, and rewarded her.

She was generally a delightful child all afternoon, which is frankly a change from our recent experiences. So nice!

Night #2: I knew she wouldn't be tired for our ideal bedtime of 7:30-8:00, but she was in bed by a little after 8:00 and probably quiet by 8:35pm. Again, a huge improvement.

As an aside, this is part of the problem. When she naps, she tends to fall asleep around 2ish and would sleep until 430 or so. This clearly is too late to then be tired enough for bedtime. The solution is either to have her nap earlier, which is really a challenge, or to skip nap and do an earlier bedtime. I honestly think we are heading in that direction sooner rather than later - quiet time instead of nap, but it might make for a much more pleasant evening.

Nap #2: So-so. She did nap, but it probably took her an hour of talking before she fell asleep. I can't remember if she woke on her own or if we woke her, but she did sleep and was rewarded.

Night #3: She went to be really late, about 9:00pm, because we had dinner with friends, but she went right down and slept all night. She did wake up about 6:15am hollering, so I went in and told her she needed to be quiet until her cow was dancing. She didn't go back to sleep, but did get quiet until about 6:32am and then I went to get her and she got her rewards.

Nap #3: Best nap yet! She was probably kind of tired from a shorter night of sleep than usual, so she was in bed at about 1:30pm and asleep by 1:50pm. She slept almost 2 hours and was a pretty happy camper the rest of the day!

Night #4: Didn't go down as well as the previous nights. Along with the rest of the changes, I took all the crap out of her bed crib (probably 17 things) and make her choose only 2 items (dolls / loveys) and she gets a blanket for covers. We had to exchange some of the items back and forth, then she had to potty, but she was asleep within about 30 minutes of getting in bed.

All in all, I'm totally happy with how this has worked. I made a lot of changes all at once, which my behavioral analyst friend would not agree with, but I NEEDED things to get better. Whadda you know? They did. :)

In the book, Mark Weissbluth talks a bit about the difference between rewards and bribes, as well as the role of consequences. You can read it for yourself, but basically he says it is fine and it works. Also, that your love and kisses are not enough to change the behavior of a strong-willed toddler, so you may need back-up.

His idea is basically that your child will eventually become so proud of themselves that the rewards will kind of phase themselves out. This is exactly what happened with potty training for us, so I'm hopeful this will be the same. I have made a point to talk about how proud of Ellen I am to her, as well as our family and friends, and she gets a big smile on her face.

Awwww, still love that girl. :)


The Hales said...

Currently reading this book. Crazy to think that more sleep will lead to your child being willing to fall asleep earlier. I guess "a rested child rests well" really is true.

Liz Krueger said...

Tough line between nap/no nap and the theory that sleep begets sleep. Sticker chart worked wonders for Evan, who was up till 10 or 11 on a napping day. We successfully phased naps out this summer and he is asleep by 8 though up earlier (630ish) than he ever has been. I'll take it - no fuss bed time, happy kid and grown up time in the evening! We made changes all at once the week before Emma's school started - seemed to work great here too. Hope she continues on the road to happy sleeper so mommy and daddy are happy :) Not sure I'm ready for my sleepless nights to come but feel lucky my big kids are dependable sleepers ~ and blessed I get to be awoken in the night ;)