Posted by: laughs4dads | December 13, 2010

HOW-TO: Putting a Child to Sleep, or “Honey, Where’s the Mallet?”

Let’s talk about the most enjoyable part of any day for any new parent.  Bedtime.

Of course, I’m not thinking here of your bedtime, although that is enjoyable.  It is not as enjoyable as it once was, however, because now it is something of a gamble.  As you go to sleep, you are saying to yourself, “What are the odds of the baby sleeping through the night?”

Ah, but baby’s bedtime, there’s something to look forward to.  The end, essentially, of another day and the start of a glorious, albeit brief, vacation.

There are many philosophies regarding the imposition of a bedtime.  Some experts say “When they’re tired, they’ll go to sleep.”  These experts are likely not to be parents themselves. Others say “When you’re tired, they’ll go to sleep.”  These experts are firmly in the “wishful thinking” school of parenting.

Barbara and I say make a schedule as soon as you can, maybe even while the kid is still in the womb, and stick to it.

“Ha!” you say, and then wonder why you are making loud utterances while you are reading a blog.  “Easier said than done.”

Well, actually, it was pretty easy.  Easier, at least, than, say, filling out a tax form.  The trick is not to treat bedtime as an isolated event.  Bedtime, you see, really begins at naptime.

Naptime is the bugaboo.  If you want your kid to go to sleep at 8:00 PM, it’s probably not a wise idea to have a 6:30 PM naptime.

Barbara enforced a 1:00 PM naptime.  Well, around one.  Okay, anytime between one and four.  They key was, at 4 o’clock, Casey got woken up, regardless of when she had gone to sleep.

Now perhaps your child doesn’t want to go to sleep at one.  Maybe she likes to watch all the judges on daytime TV.  Tough.  You have to make her go to sleep.  How?  Baby Nytol, of course.  No, no, just kidding.  There are other ways.  (On the other hand, if they can have Baby Tylenol and Baby Ambusol…)

What did we do?  Sometimes Barb would take Casey for a drive.  She’d drive around, looking at the expensive houses in our area and peeping into people’s swimming pools, until Casey fell asleep.  Then she’d come home, leave Casey in the car with the garage and the car windows open and the door from the garage to the house ajar so she could hear when Casey woke up.

This is probably not an option if you live in an apartment in a city.  I mean you can’t leave the baby in a car parked at curbside.  She might wake up when somebody breaks in to steal the radio.

But there is an alternative.  Someone we knew simply put her baby in the carseat and put the carseat on top of her washing machine.  With the machine turned on, the motion of a car is simulated, and the baby is fooled into dozing off.  Three warnings here: 

1. If you have a top-loading machine, be sure to close the lid, or your baby is likely to shrink.

2. If you live in an apartment building with a laundry room, bring plenty of quarters.

3. Do not, repeat, do not leave the baby at a Chinese laundry unless you want a stiff child with a missing belly button.

Okay, so, one way or another, the kid napped in the afternoon and woke up at four.  Now it’s bedtime.

There’s probably more advice written about bedtime than any other aspect of child-rearing.  I’m about to add to it.

Some experts tell you not to allow the baby to get attached to an object, like a blanket or a stuffed animal.  We ignored this.  In fact, Casey got attached to a blanket and a menagerie.  She’d go to sleep with her blankie and five or six stuffed animals including a little gorilla which, when she began talking, she named “Baby,” which made us worry about our future grandchildren.

Some experts also advise not to let the baby take a bottle to bed.  We ignored this, too.  We’d put Casey into the crib equipped with blankie, “Baby” and bottle, the three B’s.  However, she was always good about taking the bottle out of her mouth before she dozed off. You have to be careful it doesn’t stay in the mouth all night; it’s not good for their teeth, and it’s hard on the nipples.  

You may want to know why we ignored all the advice of experts.  Simple.  It was not important advice.  The important thing was that Casey go to bed when we wanted her to.  In exchange for that favor, we were perfectly willing to let her bring anything she wanted into bed with her, even if it was a baby boy. 

All this is not to imply that Casey quietly acquiesced to our desires.  We did not say to her: “Okay, honey, bedtime’s at eight, no exceptions.”  And she did not say: “Very good, mother and father.  As always, I will abide by your wishes.”

Not at all.  We simply put her in the crib and said goodnight.  And she simply cried.

One of the age old questions in parenting is “Do you let them cry or not?”  This, in fact, is question number two, right after “Why exactly did we want kids?”

I am told that up to three months or so, it is medically inadvisable to let them cry.  After that, the whole thing becomes psychological.  If you let them cry, do they think they have been deserted?  If you go in and hold them, do they get spoiled?

I believe in beginning life’s lessons early.  In life, if you get pulled over for speeding by a large, surly officer with mirrored sunglasses, crying won’t get you out of the ticket, unless you are an extremely attractive woman.  (This assumes, of course, that the large, surly officer with mirrored sunglasses is a man. Or maybe it doesn’t.)  If I am faced with an unreasonable client, I doubt crying would get me anywhere, although at times I’ve been tempted to try.  So it’s just as well that a six-month-old learn quickly that crying is not the answer.

I also strongly believe in Behavior Modification.  I think Pavlov did wonderful things with dogs, although I would hate to have been responsible for cleaning his carpets. My feeling is, if you respond to the crying, the kid learns that crying is a good way to get attention, hugs and caresses.  That never worked for me in singles bars; I didn’t see why it should work for my child.

On the other hand, it does sort of ruin your evening listening to your baby cry, especially if you’ve rented a movie on pay-per-view.  And besides, what if it’s not a plea for attention?  What if something is really wrong, like the baby’s head is caught in the “Sesame Street” mobile?

Well, Barb and I decided on a time limit approach.  If Casey wanted us badly enough to cry for twenty consecutive minutes (otherwise known as “An Eternity”), then she could have us.  This was not a strict rule; we could recognize various kinds of crying, and if we heard the one that said, in effect, “Help, there is a large reptile in my room,” we’d go up right away.  Usually, however, the cry was more like “I’m not quite ready to go to sleep yet, so I thought I’d annoy you.”  That was the one she’d have to keep up for twenty minutes.  Interestingly, it worked out that her stamina and our rule matched perfectly.  She seemed to be able to cry for about nineteen minutes and thirty seconds before petering out.

And then we had the single most valuable commodity of parenthood: Silence.

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