Do you have little tykes at home who consistently interrupt your child-free post tuck-in time with call outs? Are you constantly summoned back to your toddler’s room for any of the following reasons?: thirst, stories, songs, request and dedications, irrational fears, nonsense talk, scratchy tags in the pjs, darkness, brightness, questioning, bad knock-knock jokes, missing loveys, missing pacifiers, shadow,s or, in our house, ‘magic lotion’ (aka Vapo-rub) applications on their feet (this is one of those little rituals that seemed clever at the time I invented it to ward off monsters, but is no longer cute).
I have also been summoned back to the wee one’s room to be interrogated about the scent of popcorn I tried to sneak for myself too soon after her bedtime, as well as related line of questioning concerning whether Daddy is ‘watching the game and making chip crumbs on the couch’ (the answer was ‘yes’ to all, so of course I lied). Once I returned to the room very annoyed only to be told I had forgotten to put on the nighttime pull ups. I had to swallow my tongue, since without this alert from the inmate, I would have been cleaning up pee sheets at 2am. Barring the latter of these call outs, the vast majority are unnecessary excuses for prolonging bedtime and I have spent many nights testing out various solutions to shut them down. Below are the methods I have had the most success with.
Method #1: Be Boring – When you return to the room, be quick and most importantly be boring. Offer a kiss or hug then leave again. Don’t be fun, don’t be soothing, don’t make prolonged eye contact. Don’t offer anything enjoyable in addition to your presence. If they are asking for something, either provide it or deny it, but do it quickly and robotically. Channel Puddy from Seinfeld or Betty Draper from Mad Men — Vacant. Monotone. Boring.
Method #2: The Teaser Leave – This is one of my favorites and can also cut down on the overall tuck in time if your routine is getting to be crazy long. When you are ready to leave (even if it is earlier than usual), say something like “Mommy is going to take out her contacts. I’ll check on you in a minute when I am done, and then you can go to sleep”. This allows you to make the main tuck in short and sweet. They typically allow it because you are not leaving for good and they are curious about this second visit. When you do your final drive by, make it a mini one. Be short and sweet and mildly boring (see method #1 above). Make a quick exit and wait 20 minutes before making any popcorn.
Method #3: Distraction – This is the one that every person who has written a book about children’s sleep would cringe at, but it works for me. Allow the kids to have books and maybe even some small toys in bed with them. I honestly don’t care if they stay awake until midnight as long as the kids entertain themselves quietly until they are ready to fall asleep. In reality, my kids are usually asleep within 20 minutes or less. I let them have several books and my daughter has a little bucket of tiny prize toys she has gotten for potty training etc. Sometimes I will suggest they read a book to one of there stuffed animals and both kids seem to latch onto that. Sometimes that is just enough to make them forget about calling out. The added bonus when they wake up early is that they could potentially read quietly for a while giving me some extra sleep time!
Method #4: Guilt – This is probably the easiest one, but somehow I didn’t think to use it until recently. Our call outs had died down for quite a while using the methods outlined above, but suddenly jumped back to 1-2 call outs for a few nights in a row. When I did my final tuck in last night I said “Okay, let’s not have any calling out tonight. Mommy gets sooooo tired running up and down the stairs.”. She looked at me inquisitively and there were no call outs! This is a new method and has not been fully tested. You may have to pile it on, for instance “Mommy is afraid her legs might fall off if she has to keep running up the stairs”. Be creative, but keep in mind that you will be the one paying for therapy down the road.
Method #5: Crap, I gotta go, my daughter is calling me…