I was sitting in my driveway with my next-door neighbor, watching our kids play together (a total of 5 girls, combined) – and I looked at DJ’s sweet face and realized how many new freckles she had. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen her without a scrunched up nose from grimacing and crying in such a devastatingly long time. I got a little emotional as I took inventory of her happy face. Her hair was a mess as we hadn’t combed it out since her morning swim lesson, and she was wearing Christmas pajama pants with a Tinkerbell nightgown and a zebra sweatshirt, sealed with Nike tennis shoes. She looked like a collage of silly things – and that face, that face of hers – with all those freckles, was shiny and full of delight.
My sweet girl had made a comeback.
I hadn’t realized it until that very moment, but DJ’s tantrums have dramatically decreased. In fact, it has been a few days now since I’ve wanted to cry and pull my hair out. It’s been a few days of harmony, of balance, of laughing and playing.
I am certain that this is a result in our changed approach to bedtime. I realize its been several weeks since I last shared our bedtime struggles – and quite honestly, I feel like I’ve been dragged around the world and back since then. It’s been way too many nights without sleep. Way too many nights of bedtime struggle – but Hallelujah, we’re making progress!
I ended up talking with a Child Psychologist about DJ’s psychotic nighttime behavior. I needed to know that she was “OK.” I needed to know that I wasn’t ignoring an emotional or developmental issue that I should be treating with more compassion or knowledge. We had a long and detailed phone conversation, in which this psychologist concluded that DJ was suffering from anxiety.
That broke my heart. I cried. Man, how could our quest for a good night’s rest have caused such stress and turmoil for our three year old. I immediately felt like a selfish jerk – the worst mom in the world. But, was quickly reminded that kids are resilient, and that I’m not awful. What DJ needed to know is that she’s not alone in this journey toward sleeping well. It’s not us against her. We’re not mad at her.
We devised a plan….the Gradual Withdrawal Chair Method. Each night we’d sit on a chair in DJ’s room, starting off first beside her bed and then every few days moving closer to the bedroom door. I was reminded time and again that our expected outcome wouldn’t be for DJ to sleep through the night, but just that we were working to reduce and reverse DJ’s anxiety.
We are now on Day 11. And while I would bet that other families who have gone this route may have done it faster – we had a lot of work to do from the not-so-distant days of the past where DJ would get so upset at bedtime that she’d make herself vomit.
The good news is, I’m now at the door and it’s been at least 5 nights since DJ has had any rejection at all to bedtime. We have kept our routine the very same. Our only change is that instead of saying goodnight and walking out her door only to endure hours of torturous screaming, we are now saying goodnight and sitting with her until she falls asleep.
This method is not without it’s sacrifices, however. Because DJ is the type of kid who expects the environment that she wakes up in, to mirror the one that she fell asleep in (as most kids do), she wakes several times a night looking for our company. So, while we are getting up every few hours to return to our chair in her room, we’ve concluded that this is a good trade-off for the peace we’ve been experiencing.
Sometime this weekend, I’ll be attempting to move my chair out of DJ’s room – sitting outside her door. I’m anxious about this step since we’ve gotten into a productive groove, but I’m also really excited to see this process through to success. And let’s face it, I cannot wait to escape these dark circles under my tired eyes!
I am reminded time and time again that we know our children best. And, I am reminded time and time again that what works for the majority of children, might not be what works for our own. And so, it goes without saying, that is is so important to not only trust your instincts, but to also assemble a support team around you of those who are willing and able to help you find the right, and unique, approach for your child’s needs. I am so thankful to Melissa at Sleep Sisters, for her quick response to our psychologist’s direction. Within a day of starting on our new “plan,” Melissa provided me with tips and tricks specially designed to compliment the Chair Method. She even went above and beyond by offering a few additional suggestions that might pair nicely with our direction, such as a weighted therapeutic blanket. And most importantly, Melissa has been checking in with me frequently – cheering me on, offering words of encouragement and reflection on all that we’ve done right when we’ve strayed down the path of beating ourselves up.
We WILL get there, and when we do – I’m seriously busting out the champagne! Stay tuned for tales of our progress.