Solving the bedtime dilemma, one “stuffie star” at a time

stuffie starsThe problem has been building for the last few months and it seems to ebb and flow, complaints and upset around not wanting to go to bed or not being able to actually fall asleep. I talk to other parents and they seem to have two strategies: anger and struggle or capitulation. While I might occasionally veer towards the former, sorry to say, neither of them really fit the bill. I’m a guy who lives solidly on the Martian landscape (with a hat tip to John Gray) so my goal is to fix it.

Yes, I know, I’ve written many times about the ability for a parent to differentiate between those situations that are “fix it” situations and those that are simply “get through it” moments, but when it’s a problematic behavioral pattern that you can see growing week after week, knowing that it’s going to get really bad, then really, really bad then intolerable, smart parenting involves that great Western cliché about “heading it off at the pass”.

Watching my 9yo K- have an increasingly difficult transition at bedtime and hearing from my ex that the situation’s exactly the same at her house too — a good reality check in case there’s something about being at my place, my bedtime routine or my house that is upsetting or scary — I knew I needed to come up with something that could ease the situation, something that would alleviate the bedtime struggles.

To be candid, we’ve been here before. In fact, between my three children, I feel like it’s more common for at least one of them to have a difficult transition to sleep than for all three to smoothly and easily slip into the comforting arms of somnos. Does that rather overwhelm me, just about 17 years into this journey? You bet it does.

About 18mo ago K- had a period where she had a really hard time with going to sleep too, and one of the solutions I tried that worked out very well was to essentially give her a “gold star” for every good bedtime. The variation was that they were worth money and that when she’d earned enough of what we called “stuffie stars”, she’d be able to get a new stuffed animal.

That worked so well that we completely broke the bad sleep cycle and last I recall, she’d earned about 30 stuffie stars (e.g., 30 easy bedtimes) and had forgotten to cash them in for YASA. (that stands for “yet another stuffed animal”. I bet you know what I mean)

This time what she’s really holding out for are sleepovers, where her pals can spend the night. I like hosting sleepovers and it’s fun for the rest of the kids to have someone new in the house temporarily, but if we’re fighting at bedtime and it’s a pain, there’s no way that the reward of a sleepover is going to happen.

Mix ’em together, throw in some oversight, and we have a new Stuffie Stars chart on the mirror, one that tracks good bedtimes and one that offers easy visual feedback so K- herself can count: Every 14 good bedtimes she can have or host a sleepover.

The variation that I added this time is that they need to be consecutive good bedtimes: Four good bedtimes and two that are a nightmare doesn’t count as four, it counts as zero. Hasn’t been an issue – she’s highly motivated! – but if it comes up I’m not sure I’ll stick to that (imagine on night 13 she has a rough time) but she doesn’t know that. 🙂

And bedtime for the last few nights? It’s been delightful, even through the post-Boulder flood chaos and dramatic change in our routines.

Phew. Feel like I’ve dodged a bullet.

2 comments on “Solving the bedtime dilemma, one “stuffie star” at a time

  1. […] As I wrote about a week or so ago, I had to resort to an older technique to help my 9yo remember how to just go to sleep when she went to bed rather than cry hysterically about how she missed her Mom (and at her house, she’d cry about how she missed me. Can you say “no win”?). The infamous “stuffie stars”. You can read about it here: Solving bedtime problems with stuffie stars. […]

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