Ahh...bedtime. Anyone else dread it? We had a really rough time the past year and a half. A YEAR AND A HALF. 533 nights. Yes, I did the math. Ugh.
As soon as we switched Rooney to a toddler bed (she was 2 1/2 at the time), we struggled with her sleep (she was an awesome infant sleeper, so this was a huge change). And we have just been in survival mode ever since, especially since Finch was born. I think the loss of boundaries without the crib made her feel insecure. She would come out of her room several times after we put her to bed, so we tried putting a baby gate in her doorway, but she would just knock it over and come out. She lacked control to stay in bed, didn't know how to fall sleep without her pacifier and seemed scared...not to mention having a baby brother on the way. So Eric started laying in her bed with her til she fell asleep. On a good night this took 15 minutes, but if she had taken a nap it was closer to two hours! And she would come into our bed as soon as she woke up...which started out as 5:00 am (which was fine and even kind of cozy/fun), but slowly this moved back to as early as 10:30 pm! We did not sleep well with her in our bed, but we were doing whatever it took to keep things smooth and get as much sleep as possible. We had no idea when she would "outgrow" it...there didn't seem to be an end in sight.
It got so bad that she wouldn't want to do ANYTHING alone (go potty, etc.) during the day. I honestly considered locking her in her room at night and making her figure it out ... but luckily Eric was more empathetic than me. He re-listened to the book Boundaries and also met with a mentor who helped talk him through it. We started setting firmer boundaries overall...first we implemented a morning sticker chart where there are six things she has to do by herself before school. She LOVES it. I think she really likes seeing what is expected of her and then doing it, and getting to put a sticker on. In my mind, it shouldn't be hard for her to remember the few things she needs to do before school, but I wasn't thinking like a 4-year-old. It's like a little game for her. The best part is that I no longer have to ask her "Please go get dressed. Did you brush your hair? Did you brush your teeth?" every five minutes. We've been doing this for two months now and she still absolutely loves it!
Then Eric started sitting NEXT to her bed while she fell asleep, instead of IN her bed. And we talked a lot during the day about how she was going to sleep in her own bed by herself so mommy and daddy could spend time together, and we wouldn't be as tired and could do fun things with her in the evenings like go to the park. She had gotten really good at laying still and falling asleep when he was in her bed that it really wasn't a problem when he stopped. And in the middle of the night when she would come to our room, Eric would pick her up and take her back to her room. This caused tears for the first few nights, but he was really consistent with it. He would stay with her until she fell asleep again (which was usually instantaneous). So things were getting better...but now Eric was getting out of bed 3-4 times a night instead of just getting kicked in the crotch 3-4 times a night.
Finally we reached a breaking point. So we made another sticker chart, this time of her bedtime routine. Jammies, potty, brush teeth, lock doors, etc. (She likes to lock the doors with us at night and make sure she's safe, which seems crazy to me but I've heard of other kids doing this as well.) And I think she just really wanted to get the final sticker of staying in her bed til her clock turned green at 7:00 am, because it was like a light switch. She asked us to keep her door open and put a baby gate in the doorway so that she wouldn't come out. She cried when we left her room, so I told her I would come check on her in 15 minutes. She was still awake then, so I gave her another 30 minutes. She was still awake, so I told her I'd be back another hour after that. Finally at the hour check-in she was asleep! And stayed in her bed all night by herself! So of course we celebrated big the next day. (She wanted to go to the mall and get an emoji pillow. Ha!)
So, for Roo, the golden ticket was a simple sticker chart. It's been over a month now and she's stayed in her room every single night and I haven't had to check in with her til she falls asleep after that first night. She has even gotten sick and had bad dreams since then and we go to her when she needs us, but overall we are getting so much more sleep. She starts her bedtime sticker chart at 7:00 pm and we are usually leaving her room at 7:30 pm after reading a book, 2 songs, 2 prayers, hugs & kisses. And it's not just Eric and I who have benefited - Rooney really has been getting better sleep and increased confidence, too!
As much as we've opened up about our bedtime situation, the more I've learned about how common bedtime issues are - stalling, coming out of their beds, parents sleeping with kids, siblings sharing rooms, etc. I know all kids respond to different things but I wanted to share this in case it helps even one other person! We originally downloaded this morning chart (PDF) from Heart & Habit blog. We modified it for Rooney, but it was by far the best one I've found online. You can download our modified version HERE. Our bedtime chart is hand-written, but you can also download it HERE.