About a month ago I shared our recent sleep struggles that I attributed to adjustments that came with summer life. As I said then, we were hoping that our school year sleep routine would help resolve the issues, and in some ways I think it has. However, we're still not back to the consistently glorious bedtimes of the past quite yet. Yes, yet. With Sophie gracefully climbing out of her crib a couple of times in the last couple of weeks and Michael making strong attempts, I'm probably foolishly optimistic, but I'm holding onto that "yet" for now.
We recently started trying a few tweaks to our bedtime routine that seem to be easing the protest.
- We turn on the white noise about an hour before bedtime instead of just as we put the kids in their cribs. We can all hear the sound coming from their room as we finish playing in the playroom and living room, signaling that bedtime is near.
- We've been getting the kids into jammies about 30 minutes before bedtime, 15 minutes or so earlier than before.
- We read several bedtime stories in that extra pajama time instead of just one.
The other night, after Mike had put a docile Micheal into his crib and he rested there quietly, I finished rocking Sophie for a couple of minutes and went to put her down. Michael stood up and shouted, "My turn! Michael rock!" Now, this whole situation bugs the heck out of me. We were to a point for a good long while where we could put both kids in their cribs fully awake and they would calmly go to sleep on their own. The rocking, the protesting, the giving up and snuggling on the couch, all of this makes me search for when some enormous failure occured. I've pinpointed daylight savings last spring. Seriously, I think that's when it began! In a period of adjustment Michael started asking for milk from his crib, we gave it to him on the couch, the summer routine fueled the fire, and here we are.
As Michael yelled to be rocked, I thought of an article that I read in a parenting magazine a while back (can't remember which one and I no longer have it). It was an idea for getting kids to sleep without crying it out and extending their patience in the process. While I'm aware of the research on the damaging effects of extended periods of crying, I'm not one to wag my finger at letting babies cry on occasion. In fact, after a phase of sickness and teething got baby Michael in the habit of midnight snuggles, I followed my gut and let him cry for a couple of nights. It did the trick, and I'm not worried at all. However, letting him cry has not helped our current struggles, and I'm not going to push it. Because it was Dr. Harvey Karp (Mr. Happiest Baby on the Block) presenting this "patience stretching" method, I took note. I mean, what would we have done without the five S's back in the days of newborn twins? Gone completely insane, most likely.
With that article in mind I went Michael standing in his crib and turned on his seahorse for its warm light and comforting sounds. I talked to him for a little bit in whispers so as not to disturb Sophie as she dozed. I had him point out who and what was in his crib with him--monkey, seahorse, blanket, pillow, trying to help him feel less alone and unhappy in his crib. He was clearly soothed by having a sort of visitor.
At this point I was also reminded of a time when Michael was an infant and it was approaching naptime. He was crying, my mom was holding him, and she started making faces to get a smile. At first I was anxious that he was going to get too stimulated to sleep, but he almost immediately relaxed toward dreamland. I've kept that moment in mind for the last two years, remembering that getting a smile from Michael is possibly essential to getting him to sleep.
Following Dr. Karp's advice, I then told Michael that I had to go give Daddy a kiss and that I would be back in two minutes. He said, "Ok, Mama" with a smile. The article suggested going back in again and again but at longer and longer intervals out of the room until the kid can resist sleep no longer.
After a few minutes I went back in, but I brought a soft book and read it to Michael in a whisper. I then asked him if he wanted to hold the book while I went to give Daddy a hug. Again, Michael was in full agreement. (If your mind is like my husband's, you might need me to express that this method does not include progressively affectionate experiences for "Daddy." Dr. Karp's advice only involved kisses.)
Five minutes later I could hear Micheal quietly "reading" the first book aloud (a book version of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"), and I went in one more time with another book. After five minutes alone with the second book, Michael was silent, and I knew he was out. No rocking, no protests, no tears for the first time in a long time.
I did this again the next night, and it worked again. The third night, however, I was coming down with a cold and got into a soothingly hot shower when I thought the coast was clear. Mike was out picking up some carry-out (I know, we do that too often). When I came out of the shower, I could hear Michael screaming from his crib and knew the method had been blown for the evening. Out to the couch we went again.
That was last night. We're trying this "patience stretching" thing again, but Sophie has gotten into the routine now. She saw me give a book to Michael and wanted one, and on my first departure she pushed her window blinds up to reveal to both of them that at 7:15 in September, it's still daytime. Now Michael is quietly moaning, not in his happy almost sleeping state. Sophie is silent, probably dozing. We'll see where this goes, and hopefully it's not the couch.
UPDATE: It did go to the couch. Mike and I took turns holding our boy for 15 minutes or so until he asked to go to bed. Not a terrible routine, but it doesn't feel right.
Here's a question for any experienced mama reading this. Do you think we should get the sleep protests under control before switching to toddler beds, or are we wasting effort since that's likely to throw us into a bedtime tailspin anyway? Please share any advice below!
Maybe I should read Happiest Toddler on the Block?