Take Back the Night: a Sleep Training Guide for Parents Who Failed the First Time Around

by ParentCo. December 18, 2017

family's feet showing under covers

When my 10-year-old was a baby, she would only fall asleep if she was snoozing in between my husband and I, while holding our earlobes. We would silently lie awake staring at her beauty and wonder. When she grew into a toddler bed, we took turns sleeping on her bedroom floor, singing Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Pony Man”. We literally sang the words off of a printed sheet of paper by moonlight. This is what crazy, first-time parents do. They screw it all up. The second child came around, and she was a champion sleeper. We had a few good years of sweet, blissful sleep, and then…the twins arrived, at which point, the middle child decided that sleeping in her own room was for the birds. For the past three years, she has been a frequent flyer in our king-sized sanctuary, visiting us every single night. The twin babies are now toddlers. They have never in their entire lives made it through the night without summoning mommy to their rooms or crawling into bed with us. And so it goes. The kids nightly rotate into our room, we move them out, lay with them, sneak away, find them pressed up against our sides an hour later. Finally, my husband and I give up, crying ourselves back to sleep. It isn’t that I don’t want to cuddle my babies. I am just so tired now. I want no human contact from the hours of 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Is that too much to ask? The thing that gets me is that the kids don’t really need anything. They aren’t scared, cold, sick, or thirsty. They’re just addicted. Addicted to mom. But it’s moving day around here, and these kids are moving out of my bed come hell or high water. I need to sprawl out. I want to sleep with no pants on. I don’t want to conduct a full-on search party for pink blankie or Bingo the Lion in the middle of the night. This. Is. Happening. Here is how I plan to take back the night:

Go back to Sleep Training School

If you’re anything like me, the thought of sleep training made your heart hurt when your kids were infants. I could never do it. I tried four times and failed miserably, hence the current situation around here. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to head back to school, moms, dust off the sleep training manuals, and give it another go. These kids are older and wiser. They have words now. Lord knows they have words! And this time around, we moms are stronger and plain old fed up. It’s a perfect recipe for success.

Create a soothing bedtime routine

I’m giving myself a C+ on this one because we always have provided a calm and predictable evening routine. The problem is that we become giant wusses when it comes to pulling the cuddle plug. When we should be telling the girls, “After this last story, I am going to hug and kiss you goodnight” (and then run like hell), we snuggle them, and then snug some more. Before we even realized what was happening, we had created an expectation of laying with each child until they fell completely asleep. This literally takes hours per day, which literally sucks. It’s time to cut the cuddle cord.

Give them authority and ownership of their space

I love the twin’s current nursery decor, but if allowing them to pick out some cheesy “Shimmer and Shine” sheets and a few Disney-themed nightlights means I’ll get some sleep back, then I’ll drive them to Target right now. They are older. They have some sense of bargaining and reasoning, which means we’re at the point where we can strike a deal: I’ll buy that junk if you kids stay in your damn beds at night. Is this bribery? Perhaps. Research does tell us, however, that if kids feel empowered and in control of their environment, then they are more prone to spending time there. Power to the design-prone toddlers!

Grow a pair and say no

I hate myself for saying this, but it’s pretty obvious that I’m a pushover in the middle of the night. I make exceptions for my kids’ nighttime creepster ways like it’s my job. Maybe they had a bad day at school, that show was kind of scary, they are thirsty, they just love mommy, they won’t be little forever.... Excuses. I have used them all, and they stem from dread, guilt, and exhaustion. Experts agree that, once you decide the bed-hopping is over, you have to go cold turkey. It’s high time I followed that advice and put the hard work in. It’s time to spend my evenings walking kids back to their rooms, bearing with their crying, for as long as it takes. I’m awake all night long anyway. I might as well be doing something useful…like teaching my kids to stay put.

Dig out the old sticker chart

I tried the sticker chart with the twins awhile back. It failed miserably. In hindsight, they were probably too young to digest the whole rewards system concept, so it might be time to give it another go. Over the years, I have used sticker charts for morning routines, dinner habits, reading goals, and potty training. When I was a teacher, about half of my yearly budget went to stickers. Stickers can be freaking magical, really. Let’s hope the magic holds at 2 a.m. The bottom line here is this: If the kids aren’t sleeping, I’m not sleeping. If I’m not sleeping, I’m can’t keep this circus afloat. And this parent juggling act is willing to do what it takes to reclaim her much needed beauty rest.


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