Last October, every parent rushed out to purchase a sweet little book by Adam Mansbach because he had captured the thought process one goes through when putting a child to bed. For the past year, friends have posted "Go the F--- to Sleep" as their Facebook status, and other parent friends have "like" it. The bedtime battle is one that we as parents can connect on. Rarely will you find a parent saying that their child doesn't get up every goddamn second of every goddamn night asking for some goddamn something or other. Those parents who do quickly lose friends. Plus, they're lying.
Our sweet, wonderful E learned the trick to delaying bedtime. She would get out of bed about ten times a night and/or call one of us in for one reason or another. I have to pee. I need a book. I don't want this book. My blanket fell off. I want my music on. I want my music off. I'm cold. I'm hot. I'm thirsty. You name it, she said it. Paul and I would look at each other, mouth "Go the F--- to Sleep", pull our slow, sorry asses off the couch and deal with whatever she needed. We never ever had time to talk, relax, blog (who am I kidding, I don't have time to blog now, but I'm working on that)...
One morning, after a particularly difficult night which included all the lights in the house being turned off and E screaming like she was being murdered, I decided it was time to try something new. I decided to implement a ticket system.
The basic premise of the ticket system is this: Once you get tucked in and it's "lights out," you have x amount of times that you can call mom or dad into the room, or leave the room for any reason. In order to keep track, you get tickets. Once the tickets are gone, you get nothing.
Because I wanted this to be a system that was readily accepted, used and respected by E, I had to make it successful from the start. So, I started by talking with her about the problem at dinner time. I brought up the fact that when it's "lights out," I expect that she stay in bed, not get out of bed or call me or dad to her to do stuff for her because that's what "lights out" means to me. We then went on to talk about the fact that there are times when someone would need to get out of bed after lights out. Sometimes you need to go to the bathroom even if you went right before bed. Sometimes you realize that you forgot your stuffed animal. I suggested that I help her keep track of how many times she needs to call us or get out of bed, and we can do that with tickets. She got very excited about that. I asked her if she would like to make some special for bedtime, or if we should buy some. She jumped on the chance at making her own special tickets.
So, after dinner, I pulled out the crayons and card stock and E set about to decorate her very own bedtime tickets. My goal was to have her going to bed with just three tickets. Three was a number that I thought was both developmentally appropriate, and a number I could live with. However, since she was getting up/calling me in to her room so often, we started with ten.
I wanted it to be successful, so I gave her as many tickets as I thought she would need so that she wouldn't run out. Ten seemed to be a good number. I was a little worried that she would run out even with that many and my plan would be foiled, so I held my breath. E called me in for a variety of things. One more hug. One more kiss. Fix my blanket. Get me a book. Each time she called me, I reminded her that I would need a ticket. When I got the "OK" response, I'd walk in, and see her smiling face, holding her ticket like she had just found it in a Wonka chocolate bar.
And by the time she fell asleep, I had eight tickets and she had two. Success!
I kept the ticket level at ten for two more nights. I didn't want her to learn the consequence of running out of tickets before she had learned the power of tickets, or even how the system worked. So, on night three, I mentioned at dinner that she hadn't been using those last two tickets, so it was probably OK to go to bed with just 8. I asked her what she thought. She asked me what would happen if she ran out of tickets. I said "Well, that's simple. I won't come in, and you won't be able to get out of bed. That's what the tickets are for." She reluctantly agreed that we could cut it down to eight, and that night she was just a little bit more conservative with her needs.
After three consecutive nights of using less than eight tickets, I brought up cutting back the number to seven. And then to six, then five, and finally, after a month of teaching the system, we were down to four tickets. While I still wanted one less, I was proud that we had made it to four.
And with four, came the first night of running out of tickets.
She had been successful with four tickets for two nights. She had run out of four tickets on both those nights, and night three was no different. Except for the fact that she wanted me again.
"Do you have a ticket?"
"Then can I come in?"
"I can't talk to you anymore. There are no more tickets."
And then there was crying, hysteria, running out of bed, picking up and putting back into bed without talking, more crying, hysteria, and pretty much everything that happened prior to introducing the ticket system. This is the night that makes every parent wonder why the hell they even tried this system in the first place. This night is why every parent who tries this system needs to make certain that their child has a month (or more) of success before this night. This night will come. This system does not prevent this night from happening. Even if you stay with ten tickets, this night will come. Trust me on this one.
So how do you survive this night so that it doesn't happen again for a long, long, long, long time? Well, when your child is still in bed, crack open a beer (or wine, or hard drink of choice). Every time you have to carry your child back to bed without speaking or making eye contact, come back to your drink and take a sip. This part of the lesson is not easy. It's not easy on your sweet baby, and it's certainly not easy on you. The drink will help you through the most painful time.
The best part about this horrible night is the very next night. The day after, I didn't mention what had happened the night before. I pretended like it never happened. I asked E how she slept and we went on with our day. That night, after I tucked her in, I presented her with her four tickets. She nearly pissed her pants. She was so excited that she got to have another chance. Why? Because she knew she could be successful. She had been successful so many times before. AND, she knew that I knew that she could be successful because I gave her the tickets again without ever mentioning the night before.
Now, because I hadn't mentioned the night before and I had just produced the tickets, she had to bring up the night before. I agreed with her that it was a hard night, and that I felt pretty confident that she would know what to do if she ran out of tickets again tonight. She agreed. She said "I won't call you to come into my room anymore."
That night, she used three tickets.
It took a much longer time to get her whittled down to three tickets, and once that happened, I found that I needed to remind her when she had one ticket left. In the past year, there have been a few times when she's run out of tickets and she's tested the system and my resolve. While I'm sure that it's more than what I can count on my fingers, it doesn't seem like that much since it's been a year. 365 days of using tickets. Even the "unsuccessful" days have been a success. On those days, she has learned that I stand behind our agreement. The key here is that she has more successful days than unsuccessful. A lot more. As in 28 out of 30 days. As in "I can't remember the last time she was screaming like a banshee, running down the halls."
So, if you plan on doing this with your own child, you need to think about your child when setting up the system. How many tickets will you need to start with? How many times on average does your child get out of bed or ask you to come into the room? How many times is reasonable to you? How old is your child? Will your child be able to prioritize wants and needs to have only that number of requests each night?
Sometimes, you may start out with one number in mind (like, three), and realize that your child needs more in order to be successful most nights. How will you know this? Easy - just count how many beers (or stiff drinks) you had during bedtime that week (see how I turned that into a data system? That's why I'm a "specialist.").
E has been using only one and sometimes two tickets during bedtime for the past three months, maybe longer. I haven't felt the need to take one away. Three was my number, and I still think it's reasonable for her age. Some day, I hope to fade the tickets completely. For now, we use them. They give her power. They teach her about wants and needs. They keep me sane.
Most of all, they keep her in bed, and that was my main goal.