Good Night... (please!)
By Kelly W
Before our son came home from Russia, I read several articles about how to help my soon-to-be toddler fall asleep at night, everything from the Ferber Method to the Family Bed. By the time we took custody, I felt well prepared for bedtime. Our first night in Russia with our son, Dmitri, proved that the research was worth the time. We had no difficulty with bedtime whatsoever. Night two brought reality and several months of it! Dmitri wouldn't sleep in his own bed. He wanted, rather, he needed us there with him. The Family Bed was the only bed in which he would rest peacefully. The problem lay with me. I was so concerned that my husband would roll over on top of him that my mind could not rest. The Family Bed could not be our long-term solution.
Upon returning home from Russia, we tried several ways to help Dmitri wind down and prepare for bed. For a few weeks, all he needed was a calming children's book and a few minutes of a children's show to drift off to peaceful slumber on the couch. From there we would move him to his bed. His tolerance increased rapidly and before we knew it, our bedtime ritual was taking close to 40 minutes. Back to the drawing board...
We decided to move book time to his bedroom. We struck out. Dmitri would engage with the story so much that falling asleep was not on his agenda at all. He only wanted more story time. Then we decided that the Russian lullaby CD might be worth a shot. YES! Dmitri took comfort in the familiar sounds of his native language and would find it difficult to keep his eyes from closing. But once again, his tolerance and longing for us to be by his side kicked in after a few nights of success. We tried the Ferber Method but we didn't have what it took to tolerate hearing our son cry out for us in what sounded like agonizing pain. We went back to the Family Bed for a few nights while we tried to figure something out.
My husband (I should mention he's a football coach) thought we should "tire him out." We have several minutes of very comical home video of Dmitri running end to end in our living room. Needless to say, this approach failed miserably, but we have fun watching the tape!
We discovered that gradual withdrawal from us worked best. We incorporated what worked from our not-so-successful attempts along with decreasing our physical presence in his room. For several weeks, following the reading of his favorite bedtime story, both my husband and I lay on the floor next to our son's bed while he fell asleep holding one of our hands, listening to his Russian CD. We stopped holding his hand but maintained all other aspects of the routine. Two more months passed and we were able to have just one of us in the room. Next, we moved from being next to his bed, to sitting by the door...then in the hallway and finally in a different room. Dmitri would ask if we were there a few times before falling asleep. If we didn't answer, he would climb out of bed to make sure we didn't wonder off too far. By the end of the first year, Dmitri was falling asleep with little effort and remaining asleep through the entire night. We were able to substitute for our physical comfort by hanging family photos close to his bed, a favorite stuffed animal, night light and the song(s) of his choice (I think I can officially put "DJ" on my resume).
After more than three years as a family, our routine is now simple: turn on the music, read or tell Dmitri one of his favorite stories, "tuckle" him in (a little tickling while we tuck him in for the night), and then receive our kiss and hug from Dmitri, first for my husband and then for me.
It took some time, but here's what we now know: while the research and expert advice may help, we, as parents, need to figure out what is best for our families while learning from our children. They tell us what they need... all we need to do is pay attention while they teach us.