Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jack-in-the-box at bedtime

It’s been two and a half weeks now since we boldly dismantled the side rail on Owen’s crib and converted it to his “big boy bed.” For a few days, Owen was so giddy with his newfound freedom that he’d still be up an hour and a half after bedtime as we negotiated potty trips, lotion needs (for “hurting” stomachs and legs), band-aid requests (for invisible boo-boos), darkness concerns, sibling complaints, unexplained smiling appearances and the like. Finally I decided it was time to bring out the no-nonsense “Jack-in-the-box” technique, courtesy of Marc Weissbluth’s “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.”

The strategy involves returning your kid to bed without looking at him or talking to him every time he gets out of bed, no matter how many times it takes. You let him know you’re going to do this ahead of time, but it’s a psychologically brutal parental experience on the first couple nights.
We started by making a sign with Owen’s sleep rules: “At bedtime we: 1. Stay in bed; 2. Close our eyes; 3. Stay very quiet; 4. Go to sleep

Will added a fifth rule in his own handwriting: “Be very still and don’t wake up your brother”

Owen colored a bit on the sign and decorated it with stickers. We posted it in the bedroom, and I braced for the imminent battle.

We’d resorted to the jack-in-the-box strategy with Will a few years back, and we put him back to bed something like 75 times the first night, 130 times the second night and then Presto, the magic kicked in and there were only a few return trips to bed or maybe none on night three. With Will it worked like magic for a couple weeks, then things quickly fell apart again as soon as we spent a weekend away from home and we’d have to do it over again.

Rob had such negative memories of the experience (he calls it the worst thing we went through with Will) that he was feeling really reluctant about releasing Owen from his crib. So I decided to take on the role of the evil, mute, eye-averting returner to bed. (It’s best for just one parent to do it per night anyway, Weissbluth says.) I handled Owen gently but gave him no feedback at all, and he was so devastated by the loss of interaction with me that he hollered and carried on and climbed back out of bed 57 times over the course of an hour. I snuck in a few tears of my own when Owen wasn’t looking; the whole process goes against every motherly bone in my body -- except that I know I’m going to have a well-rested kid after just a couple days of misery.

Meanwhile, we let Will sleep in our bed for the first hour or two of the night. In fact, I was putting Owen back in Will’s double bed. Since the boys share a room these sleep training issues are complicated. Owen prefers Will’s truly big bed to his little “big boy bed.” And yet in a way Will’s potential presence adds incentives for going to sleep quietly. Before we got to return trip 80 or 125 or whatever it might have been on that first night of jack-in-the-boxing Owen, I sent Rob in to make one final deal. If Owen would be quiet, Rob would return Will, now sound asleep in our room, to the boys’ room so that they could sleep quietly together. This did the trick. Owen lay still and silent and was soon sleeping soundly next to Will.

We had to remove Will again on night two, and after about 20 return trips to bed Owen got quiet and we moved Will back. By night three, Owen got with the program, followed his sleep rules and Will got to stay. Since then bedtime has gone relatively smoothly. But I’m sure we’ll regress.

Naptime in the bigger "big boy bed."

**On a side note, Will appears to be fever-free for the first time in six days and we are grateful for that. This was a rough round of Strep to say the least. He's still a little red under the nose, dark under the eyes, thinned out all over -- but at least he's up and playing and eating again.

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