Every Single Night (A Broken Bedtime Routine)

Kids are smart, yeah?

My son is so smart, he’s running the house right now. He hates bedtime. Going up to his own little room while there is still life happening downstairs absolutely crushes him. He has crippling fear of missing out. And he has learned how to twist his fear to take advantage of ours.

See, his little sister goes to bed about an hour ahead of him, which he’s fine with. Her room is across the hall from his, and… well, let’s just say the walls are pretty thin. You can easily hear another person talking on the other side of any wall in the house, let alone screaming. So when we put him to bed, he screams.

We’ll come to what he’s screaming about in a moment, but the takeaway is, we feel incredibly hamstrung. Intellectually we know that giving him any sort of attention for the screaming only reinforces the behavior. On the other hand, every second we let him go on screaming is another second that might wake his 1-year-old sister, and coaxing the baby back to bed is a taller order than convincing the boy to do the same. (Also, if she doesn’t get enough sleep, she can seriously put the screws to us the next day.)

So, my wife is losing sleep, and I’m losing sleep, and bedtime is now one of the most stressful times of day. It takes upwards of an hour to get both of the bundles of joy down to sleep, and putting big brother down is a recursive process that seriously drives us to distraction every single night.

Which brings us to what he screams about. This is really best described as a series of steps:

  1. I announce bedtime. He screams because he doesn’t want to go to bed.
  2. I threaten to carry him upstairs to bed. (This works because he is at the age where he wants to do everything himself). He relents.
  3. I tell him to brush his teeth. He screams because he doesn’t want to brush his teeth.
  4. I say, fine, come get dressed for bed. (This works because he really does want to brush his teeth and he doesn’t want to miss out on an excuse to noodle around in the bathroom for five minutes.) He relents.
  5. We read a book. These days it’s a seek-n-find the differences between pictures book of all his favorites: Cars, Toy Story, that kind of thing, but whatever it is, he only wants to read this one book for weeks at a time. This makes him happy.
  6. We sing some bedtime songs in the rocking chair. This works, because he loves to sing.
  7. It’s bedtime. I crawl into bed with him, because this is what he demands, and tell him he can have the usual five minutes. For five minutes, there is peace.
  8. Time to go. I get up. He screams because he knows he’s about to be on his own, which he can’t stand. I tell him I’m not listening to this nonsense: it’s time for bed. I leave the room and listen to him scream for about five minutes or so, hoping to god he won’t wake the baby. He’s screaming about one of these things:
    1. He wants his door cracked.
    2. He wants a stuffed animal.
      1. But not the stuffed animal he has with him, a different one that’s across the room.
    3. He wants to read another book.
    4. He wants to rock some more.
    5. He wants his door closed.
    6. He wants me to lay down with him again (if mommy was the last one in the room).
    7. He wants mommy to rock him (if it was me putting him to bed).
  9. He might reuse and rotate these excuses, but he’ll use them liberally just to get my wife or myself back into the room. He’ll work his way down the list, strongarming us into coming back to his room three or four times over before he spots the inadvertent eye twitch or pulsing blood vessel in my forehead that tells him the gig is up.
  10. He asks for a kiss in the most pitiful way possible, gets it, and rolls over to go to sleep.

Again, I know that indulging him is the wrong thing to do, but I really think he’s figured out that we have to see to him to keep from waking up the baby.

The three-year-old has outsmarted the college-educated adults.