The Bedtime Battle

In the last week, Elizabeth has been fighting bed.  She’s been stalling ever since she figured out how to do that (and getting better at it all the time- last night we had “I just need to kiss daddy one more time”).  But in the last week, I am actually having to force her into bed instead of just cajole her into bed.

She’s started arguing with me about every step towards bedtime.  (Brush teeth, read story, sing song, rub back- on a good night, it takes about four minutes.)  So, now instead of me brushing her teeth and then letting her have a turn, she’s grabbing the toothbrush from me, screaming and whacking at me when I try to take it back, and then crying when I take her out of the bathroom and punish her by not “letting” her brush her teeth.  Then instead of sitting on my lap and coyly suggesting two books instead of just one (I let her win that argument about every three days, that way it doesn’t become three books instead of just two), she’s refusing to sit on my lap and screaming and throwing the book on the floor (and whacking at me).  Then instead of the song, I try to start it, she whacks at me again (it’s not hard enough or deliberate enough to really be called hitting, but the difference is really just semantics), and I put her in her crib.  Then, instead of lying down and saying “rub my back, Mama”, she’s screaming as I leave the room.

Then I watch her over the monitor and try to find the right balance between not rewarding bad behavior and realizing that she is still a small person with very little control over her emotions (and is exhausted) and giving her a second chance.  What I’ve settled on for the last two days is to go back in once she loses some of her momentum (about five to ten minutes) and give her a chance to ask me for what she wants nicely.  That works very well, as soon as I walk in, she stops crying and asks me for what she wants.  (I walk in and say “do you have nice words for me?” and she says “I need to do Thomas” (brush her teeth, her toothbrush is Thomas the Tank Engine)- this was yesterday or “I need my song”- this was today.)  And then as soon as we redo whatever the “problem” is, she flops right down and goes to sleep.  (Well, when the problem is farther forward in the routine, she makes us do everything that comes after too, but like I said, four minutes on a good day, so that isn’t a problem.)

Really, I am hoping this is just a phase.  I think my next step is going to be to do something to change up the bedtime routine a little.  Hopefully that will break the cycle we’ve got going on.  In the meantime, I will just keep reminding myself that these things never last long and I always manage to find the “magic button” that turns the behavior off.