Thursday, June 24, 2010


Skyler Manhart:  Superstar by day, Nervous Nellie by night.

Here is the situation.  {I'm telling you this in hopes that if you have young children, you won't make the same mistakes that we've made.}

Skyler has always been on the difficult side at bedtime.  We had to let her cry it out when she was a baby because we somehow found ourselves rocking her to sleep (which sometimes took hours).  That worked great for a while.  When she was 2, we had to do the Super-Nanny tactic of putting her back into her bed over and over when she'd get up (one night it was 49 times) so she would learn that we were in charge at bedtime.  Since that time, we have had some stretches when bedtime is easy, but most of the time, she is needy, clingy, and difficult at bedtime.  We've gone back and forth with sticker charts, reward systems, straight-up bribery, every strategy I could think of to get her to go to bed well.  What she wants is for someone to stay with her until she falls asleep.  And I'd love to tell you that we have refused to do it,  except for the nights when we haven't.

So now, Skyler is afraid to be alone at night.

We have a great routine in theory.  7:30, she gets 2 stories from me and 2 stories from Sam and then she looks at books for a while until she falls asleep.  And that works sometimes.  But often, she cries at night becasue she doesn't want to be left alone.  Everything seems fine until the last second when it's time for us to go, and she panics.  And I'm sure from your perspective that seems like she is just maniuplating us and we need to be firm, but I'm telling you, and hoping you aren't judging me, that bedtime is the hardest thing about parenting her. 

About 10 days ago, it was really bad and we couldn't get her to stop crying.  The kind of crying where she tries to keep it together but her mouth contorts and her eyes fill with tears and she holds it in as best she can.  So, in an attempt to redeem my evenings with Sam, my hope at having any kind of quiet time at night, I made a deal with her that I would stay outside of her room until she was asleep for 3 nights, and then for the next 5 nights, I would stay upstairs and work in my room or fold laundry until she was asleep. My plan is to kind of wean her away needing me to be close by.   And she did manage to do it, but I can't say that anything is that different than it was 10 days ago.  Last night was night 5 of the mom-is-upstairs plan and she kind of fell apart again.  She was in my room, still awake at 10 pm.  I was sick over it.  I did not want to give in and go into her room, but I also needed her to be asleep.  I asked her:  "What are we going to do?"  I honestly didn't know.  She just cried on my chest.

I was really proud of both us.  I told her that if I had to come into her room to help her go to sleep, then she wouldn't get her reward that I had promised her.  Did she want that?  No.  She wanted to be able to be alone without crying. I could tell she was trying really hard to do it.   I told her that she should just go lie down on her bed for 10 minutes just to see what would happen, and if she couldn't do it, she could come back.  And she did, and she fell right asleep.  But it was 10 pm.  Victory?

And this is the curse of the working parent.  We created this mess because we don't see our kids for very many hours when we are working.  We wanted bedtime to be pleasant.  We enjoyed the time lying in the bed talking to her and going over the details of her day.  Sam, with the very best of intentions, often cuddled up with Skyler in her bed after stories and they would both fall asleep together.  And now when he doesn't stay with her until she's asleep, her little world comes crashing down.  If we knew then what we know now, we would have never let her fall asleep with one of us in the room. 

I talked to my friend Doug this morning, a children's behavioral psychologist (yes!) and he gave me some great advice, to talk to Skyler about this at a time when she's not feeling afraid, and develop a plan of steps she can take (that she comes up with) to help her self-soothe at bedtime.  He also reminded me that if I feel bad about hearing her cry at night, to remember that I'm teaching her to be self-sufficient.  Yes.  Right.  One of the most important things to me.  But damn.  This is so hard.

Together, Skyler and I talked about what she can think about when she's feeling lonely.  I asked her what is something that makes her happy that she can think about.  She said:  "picking flowers with mom."  I asked her what she could say to herself to make her feel better, and she said:  "We are always together."  I couldn't have done better myself.

Tonight, we taped her happy thoughts to the side of her dresser right near her pillow.
We also taped up the card that came in the mail today from her beloved Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Grindle.  And I burned her a CD of lullabies that she can listen to until she's asleep.   

Maybe I'll add this to the side of her dresser:
"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself."  Ralph Waldo Emerson
In fact, maybe I'll start reading from Emerson's "Self Reliance" to put her to sleep at night.

I think maybe I'm taking this too hard and need to remember that this too shall pass.  It's just that seeing your child have any kind of emotional turmoil is the hardest part of parenting {call me captain obvious}.  I want her to be happy by herself.  I want her to be confident, unafraid, and for Pete's sake!  I want her to go to bed so I can sit down for a minute. 

I'll let you know how things progress.
Any advice for a heart-sick Mommy? 
Anything I'm not thinking of to make this easier?


dmoms said...

this is such a hard one. i can so relate. I worked full time up to a year ago and had many a nights like this. i had to be up at 3:45 am too to make matters worse!

on the flip side, i went to bed early so it was easy for me to just have my kids sleep with me but that didn't make my husband to happy.

i'm thinking your friend gave you good advice. And, "this too shall pass" is a motto I live by.

The Thai Family said...

This is really hard. Our oldest used to scream out to us and flip out when she was around 2 years old and we discovered that she was afraid of the dark. Her room was very big and even one night light didn't really help illuminate it much. We eventually moved her into a smaller room and she still needs a night light and she goes to bed just fine now.

Angela said...

Ugh. We don't have this problem at nighttime, BUT we did start having it towards the end of school last year when I would drop B off. It was HARD to leave him there crying even though his teacher said he was fine 2 minutes after I left.
What I did find that worked better was a really short and sweet goodbye. I just didn't give him time to cling and it went easier. It slowly got better.
Maybe you could do the bedtime routine somewhere other than her room and then just have her go in and hop into bed and not even join her. Ouch.
Good luck friend. :)

Mike said...

Try not to let her anxiety make you or Sam frustrated (easier said than done, I know). She is obviously a sensitive child and might be picking up on your and Sam's frustrations about bedtime.

So start by working on yourself: how can I be less frustrated about this? How can I show her this is O.K.? The problem is the balance between working towards a solution and maintaining equilibrium. Get a mantra, remind yourself that this will pass and it is just part of life right now. Acceptance (which is not Emersonian at all, I know).

If its the lack of social interaction that's bothering her (as opposed to being afraid of the dark, etc.) you might try this book. Its really for clinicians, but parents can use it as well (you can read the blurb at the link - I can also lend you a copy if interested).

There are lots of approaches - cognitive behavioral (which is the reward system), psychodynamic, etc. - and some might work and others not. But what you might try to control is your own reaction to your (relative) powerlessness.

I don't think you made mistakes in falling asleep with her earlier. Your power over her sensitivity is limited (as if you didn't know that by now - isn't parenting humbling?). When she's fourteen years old and embarrassed to be seen with you in public, you'll wish for the days when she begged you to snuggle up. Its precisely what makes her a "superstar" (as you note in the post) that's causing this: she's clearly a caring, sensitive and loving child.

Perspective and acceptance.

Beth said...

Oh goodness, I can feel your anguish. I've been there. Both of my children had trouble falling asleep on their own. My son is now 8, and my daughter will be 4 in August. I honestly don't remember what helped us turn the corner for my son. He was definitely the more difficult one.

I know for my daughter, playing a CD of instrumental lullabies helped a lot. We also got some CDs that had stories and nursery rhymes and she enjoyed listening to them as she fell asleep. I think she didn't feel quite so alone that way. And I will admit offering a reward in the morning for a peaceful bedtime at night (some people might call that a bribe - I call it positive reinforcement) worked well some nights.

I do want to encourage you that this too shall pass. Truly. She will eventually become less fearful. Helping her find ways to become less fearful is the hard part. Good luck!

Truman Soloist said...

I fall into the "this too shall pass" camp also. The novelty of snuggling with Dad at bedtime started wearing off for my son when my snoring kept him from falling asleep...

Carver Fam said...

Skyler is so very lucky to have you as her mom. There is that good book "the kissing hand" and that works for Ella when we are apart. Also when I leave her overnight I give her something of mine, usually my necklace, to wear so she can feel me close.

I love the picture of her at the top of the post. She is supergirl and these steps of self-reliance make her that much more so. Remember, even though the fears are so real to her, she is safe, secure and tucked in at home with her mommy and/or daddy right downstairs.

good work mommy manhart.

Lisa said...

I remember many nights in the older generation Manhart home of sleeping with doors open and hearing music playing downstairs - most memorable Pete S and Arlo G's live performance on reel-to-reel - and motion downstairs as comforting to Sam and me. Actually don't remember if Sam was a difficult one at bedtime, but I sure know I was. I had stuffed animals lining both sides of my bed everynight. I feel for you Em.

I don't know if it's pertinent and certainly goes against the cultural norms in the US, but in Japan it's the norm to stay in bed with the child until they go to sleep...and often just sleep together until much older than Americans would put up with, for sure. Perhaps the parent falls asleep first, I'd imagine, but that can't be all bad either on some nights. hmmm...just a new perspective. After living here for so long, I've come to see the individual bedroom norm as a luxury housing situation, actually. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad for Skyler and Reed to sleep in the same room again..this time for Skyler's sake instead of Reed's? I dunno...not being a parent gives me zero right to comment, so...sorry! Just thinking about you all.

Kirsten said...

We are going through this too. We aren't as far down the road to self-reliance as you are and I admire your efforts!

Sarah said...

that post broke my heart. little skyler, so senstive! she and henry are really cut from the same cloth.

what works for us (because you know i would completely lose my shit if i had to stay with my kids until they fell asleep, most of all when thadd's gone for like a week).
-our kids all sleep in the same room
-when someone is scared, they go to our bed. we are not in it, but they are comforted by falling asleep in our bed. we just move them back to their own beds when we go to sleep.
-exhausting my kids during the day with physical activity is the best 'im-scared-to-go-to-bed' remedy in our house. it sounds ridiculous but it works. put skyler on the swim team.

lastly, i would recommend you to try to avoid the all-or-nothing thinking right"skyler needs to learn this now and then she will be better for the rest of her life". that never seems to work for me (although wouldn't it be great if it did?). think: baby steps, rather than drastic measures.

hang in there. so frustrating but she is so lucky that you are her mom.

and by the way, i have never worked full-time since being a mom and still fall into that trap of lying with my kids till they fell asleep. sometimes, it's just yummy to do that. really. it's like holding a sleeping baby. so don't beat yourself up about that habit. :)