The Bedtime Battles: A Sleepless Saga in 31 Rounds

bedtime battle

The Backstory:

This is a Twitter record from on a recent evening when I attempted the “Cold Turkey” technique discussed in my “Parenting Preschoolers” class. The process involves calmly and silently leading your child back to bed when they wake up without making eye contact or conveying any emotion whatsoever. Repeat as necessary until stationery toddler is achieved.

I Tweeted my ordeal partly to entertain myself, and partly to hold myself accountable. If I knew people were “watching” I’d be less likely to lose my cool. Right?

The Scene:

8:49 p.m. Monday. JJ had already been put back in bed four times.

The Players: 

@DesignerDaddy (all tweets are by me, unless otherwise identified)
@PEPParent (organization teaching the class and the putting-to-bed technique being applied)
@BloggerFather (fellow dad blogger, who makes a cameo appearance)
Papa (silent, supporting—but essential—role)
JJ (the Star)


So I’m trying what my @PEPParent textbook says and keep putting my son back to bed. Here goes put back #5.

Put back #6 @PEPParent

Put back #7 @PEPParent

I’m just going to load up a few of these and have ‘em ready… Put back #8 @PEPParent (Give me strength.)

Put back #9 @PEPParent Am I doing this right?

Put back #10 Who wants to wager how many it will be before A) he stays down or B) I lose my cool? @PEPParent

Put back #11. Left his room, came and closed my office door. @PEPParent

Put back #12. Broke down & talked to him. Told him would be helpful to Daddy & Papa if he stayed in bed. @PEPParent Fingers crossed (& eyes).

Okay, he’s staying in his room, but keeps getting up, jiggling the handle and is now singing to himself. #betterthannothing @PEPParent

Still moving around, making noise, jiggling the handle. But also still in his room. Dare I relax? @PEPParent

Put back #13. Too much door handle jiggling going on—and Daddy needs to watch his zombie show in peace! @PEPParent #TheWalkingDead

#s 14 & 15. Here comes #16 @PEPParent

Papa did put back #17. JJ kept saying, “I need to talk to you.” Here goes #18

#19 put back on deck… I’ll stop tagging PEP until we’re successful keeping this child in bed.

#19 goes to Papa. Taking turns now as our nerves wearing thin. #20 me

@PEPParent responds!
PEP: Ruh-roh! How old is the child with great persistence?
Me: 3 years 4 mos

#21 papa

#22 me. #23 papa. OK this is ridiculous.

#24…kinda want to let JJ see #TheWalkingDead and be too scared to come back.

 Hopefully this investment of time tonight (and probably tomorrow:) will pay off in the long run.

#26 papa. #27 me.
(You’ll note I have now gotten off count)

#28 Papa. Crying because he hurt his foot getting out of bed. JJ is crying, not Papa.

#29. Me.

 Normally goes to bed alone?
Me: Alone? He’s been doing this off and on for weeks. We’ve just never tried it for this long.
PEP: Alone: Meaning that you don’t have to lay with him to get him to go to sleep.
Me: Gotcha. No, he’s always gone down alone.
PEP: That’s a great accomplishment in itself :)

#30 Papa. He’s crying for me. Little does he know…

#29 binkies and blanket have now been confiscated. By Papa. “Daddy!” on a loop now.
(Note I have now gotten off count again)

@BloggerFather weighs in!
RT @DesignerDaddy: #28 Papa. Crying because he hurt his foot getting out of bed. JJ is crying, not Papa. // I assume Papa is crying inside.
Me: Mmm, probably more screaming inside.

Goodies have all been returned. Now, sweet silence.

 I’m guessing you’re committing to this idea of saying goodnight once & have a solid evening routine in place. Dinner, play, …
PEP (cont’d): …bath time, story time & cuddles, bedtime with limited choices offered for story vs song, pj’s

PEP: Now’s the tough part, firm and friendly, no eye contact, patient, consistent, calm voice, have faith :) Been there.

 We were doing all that. But taking binky and letting him cry for 5 mins is what eventually seemed to work.

 Hoping your radio silence means you’re back to your regularly scheduled programming:)

Asleep now.

 Enjoy (the rest) of your evening :)

 Thanks, will do! :)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Epilogue One: PEP follows up (2 weeks later)

PEP: Inquiring minds want to know… How is the bedtime routine going?

Me: Better. We don’t push naps too hard as long as he has some quiet time. That makes for a tireder boy at nite…

Me (cont’d):…and only a few “get up” incidents. Nothing above single digits! :)

PEP: Great idea! Love that you insist on some quiet time… it’s healthy for everyone to have down time :)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Epilogue Two: The Relapse (2 weeks later-er)

We’ve had a few minor setbacks, and one major one. We started out with the “Taking Your Goodies if You Get Out of Bed” tactic. But all this did was simultaneously entertain and piss JJ off, causing him to skitter out of his room more frequently (and with increasing amounts of malicious glee) and frustrating us to no end. It was escalating without a peaceful resolution in sight.

So I hit the reset button and decided to give “Cold Turkey” another try.

Parenthetically, “Cold Turkey” is a crap moniker for this approach. The phrase is historically associated with quitting smoking, it implies cutting off, no more, end of story. This monotonous procedure is more like getting water boarded, but less refreshing.

I was determined to stay the course. I shared our initial experience with my class, and we brainstormed on how to make the process more effective. There were many helpful suggestions, but it really boiled down to persistence and consistency. Slow and steady wins the race. Or drives us all batshit crazy.

Yet I wasn’t sure I could employ CT without getting too steamed, so instead of putting JJ all the way back in bed, I just led him back to his door, watching until he crawled in himself. Having to continuously pick him up and hoist him over his bedrail (he refuses to use the handy step stool and convenient opening) was too physical for me, making it more likely for me to Hulk out.

Back to our count… As we got into the mid-teens, JJ started hauling things out of his room with him (stickers, coloring books, puzzles, CDs, shoes). I gently took them away, placed in them piles on the dining room table and led him back to his room. At one point he started saying, “Talk! Talk! Why aren’t you talking?” So I knew it was working.

After about an hour (and approximately 20 put backs) we achieved Nocturnal Nirvana at last. Nine fewer put backs than the last time. Hey, progress is progress.

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I don’t think we’re completely finished with this battle. Our persistent progeny has proven a confident, strong-willed opponent in the past. But we want to do our best to train him, not break him. So, sorry, no neat wrap up/success story/helpful hint baloney this time.

Goodnight, dear reader.

And don’t you dare get out of bed.


Brent Almond is an award-winning graphic designer and illustrator. He’s also a non-award-winning father of a toddler, which he writes about (along with stuff about same-sex parent families and adoption) on his blog Designer Daddy. Brent tweets about daddy stuff @Designer Daddy and about design stuff @The DesignNut.

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Comments (5)

  1. MOM2Three

    This is SO funny. Makes me feel better about our own impossible bedtimes!

    • Brent Almond

      Glad it made you laugh. Sure wasn’t funny while it was happening!

      Tweeting about it helped — made a game out of it, and I knew people were “watching” which kept me from completely losing my cool.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Trish

    Just pondering the conclusion to your piece and admiring your wisdom, “I don’t think we’re completely finished with this battle.” You’re so right, your’e not finished with this battle, you’ll confront it again and again with every stage through the teen years. You’re so wise to learn how to grapple with this now, you’ll be better prepared for the future and you’ll always know where to find help:)
    Best wishes!

    • Brent Almond

      It was hard-earned wisdom — I guess that’s the kind I always heard was best, but never believed! If only we’d all listened more as kids! 🙂

      Thanks for reading!