I have been extremely frustrated with Elijah, my four-year old son, because of his refusal to go to sleep without screaming at night. And I feel certain that the issue involved in both school and going to sleep are very similar – separation. But I’ve been intensely trying to help him go to sleep smoothly at night for eight months now and I’m running out of patience. All for the same reason I am upset about leaving him at school – I don’t want him to feel like we are abandoning him, that we don’t love him – I have been unwilling to let him cry it out (okay, my wife also doesn’t want that to happen). But it doesn’t matter what I do or what I say, he insists on making the process as difficult as possible. Tonight, as I sit to write this, I have let him cry. I refuse to go up anymore.
It always comes back to this. I try everything I can think of to not let him cry it out and I always fail. Always. For the past several weeks, every single time he got upset, I went upstairs to try and calm him down, get him into bed and help him think about all of his Happy Thoughts so that he could go to sleep. For the most part it only reinforced to him that if he gets upset he will get to spend more time with me. That was clearly not my goal.
Finally, out of utter frustration, a few nights ago when he started screaming and banging on the door, I went upstairs, picked him up, and put him back into bed without saying a word. I think the shock of me not saying anything stunned him enough that he fell asleep. But the next night I had to do it 4 or 5 times and again last night 5 or 6 times. It was absolutely frustrating and Elijah’s screaming was getting Jordyn upset as well. He knew when he banged on the door that I would come up to put him back to bed and so he kept banging on the door (I never said he was stupid – just frustrating).
Tonight he started banging again within 10 seconds of me leaving. Then again after I had put him back into his bed. This was clearly not working and I went upstairs, put him back into bed and told him that I was not coming back up for the rest of the night. He cried and screamed as I left.
In about five minutes he was quiet and presumably asleep. Is it any wonder parents feel like their kids are smarting than they are?
I’ve been thinking about how to help him adjust smoothly without causing the pain I vowed never to inflict on him. But I’m beginning to wonder if it would only drag out the torture, the way my going up to try and calm him down does at night. It stops the crying, maybe even holds off the pain, but when I leave again, it’s like reopening a wound and the pain picks up where it left off and he starts crying again. If there is one thing I’ve learned from leaving him in the morning every single day, it is that it has to be like removing a band-aid.
If you do it slowly, the pain drags on. If you rip it off real quick, there is a moment of fierce pain, but then everything is ok.
Clearly, I need to apply that “wisdom” to the other area where separation seems to be an issue for my boy, like going to sleep.
Image credit: Pam Roth
Jeremy Schneider is a fatherhood expert, syndicated columnist, and therapist specializing in parenting, relationships, and helping people overcome depression. Learn more about Jeremy at jgs.net.
1 thought on “[A FATHER’S VOICE] The Wisdom of The Band-Aid Theory”
Thank you for bring up this very difficult topic which I’m sure many fathers (and mothers) can relate to. Perhaps my daughter was just easier at that age, but a few questions come to my mind as I read your post. First, why does he need to go to bed at that specific time? Could it be that his body clock wants him to be awake longer, and that you could get him to bed by letting him play in his room, or some other activity that tires him out. I found that as my daughter grew, we abandoned the hard and fast rules about bedtime. Secondly, perhaps there is some reason he is so “wired” at that time. Diet? Fears? Other? While I mean no disrespect, as I know you’re a therapist, I am surprised at the “bandaid” solution and completely disagree with the tactic of letting him bang, scream and cry himself to sleep. And I would urge other fathers to keep searching for that unique solution to your unique child’s unique challenge. Great discussion starter…thank you.