Guest post by Amelia Bowler of https://ameliabehaviour.com/
Ok, let’s do this. I’m so excited to be guest-blogging for ParentingwithABA that I’m going straight for the motherlode: sleep. My name is Amelia, and I’m a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst. I work in homes, schools, and clinics, and I learn every day from my own Littles.
Just one more question?
My pillow is wet.
Where’s my favourite monkey?
OW, I BONKED MY LIP!
What do you do when bedtime becomes crazy-time? I have something major for you. It’s a technique developed by Dr. Raymond Miltenberger, and it’s called Behaviour Skills Training. It’s such a powerful technique. It was originally published as a way to teach gun safety skills but since then it has been used to teach everything from abduction-prevention to social skills. You can read more about it here, but for the moment, let’s dive right in!
Littles can be merciless when it comes to sleep. They sense that we would literally do anything to be able to just close the door, walk away, and have an adult conversation, so they keep that temptation dangling just out of reach.
I’ve definitely been completely bamboozled by my own Littles, but I’m very very lucky to have had some training in how to break patterns and teach new behaviours, so I’m going to share my favourite technique for those moments when you wish you could just hop in a time machine to get out of an infinitely repeating loop of “just one more…” requests.
In fact, this technique does work a bit like a time machine. Intuitively, we assume that we must DEAL WITH the sleep situation at bedtime. However, I would argue that bedtime is the worst possible time to do a bedtime issue. That’s the one moment when we have zero leverage. Every moment we spend discussing, cajoling or threatening is a moment that takes us further past bedtime (and sanity.) It is an unwinnable battle. Do whatever it takes, live to fight another day, and bookmark this article for the next morning.
Here’s where I recommend you start:
Pick a peaceful moment. I love car rides or snack time for this type of chat, because you and the Littles are comfortable and settled for a while.
Start by connecting in a positive way. You are on the same team. Look at the problem from the child’s point of view, and empathize.
Now, here’s your script:
“Remember last night at bedtime? Remember how Mommy/Daddy was so grumpy? You wanted [something] and Mommy/Daddy kept saying [that thing]?”
Then hit the reset button together. “I have a new idea. Instead of you asking and asking, and me getting more and more grumpy, let’s find a new plan.”
Here’s the plan. It’s called Behaviour Skills Training, and there are 4 basic steps:
INSTRUCTIONS: It’s good to talk about both your expectations and your child’s desires. You might be able to find a useful compromise. For example, my children LOVE to call me back into the room after I’ve said goodnight. It’s their absolute favourite thing. Knowing this, I actually AGREED ON a ritual with the children that allows this to do it, exactly once.
Here’s what it looks like:
*hugs and kisses*
Me: “Well, goodnight children!”
Them: “Goodnight Mummy!”
Me: “OH VERY WELL, JUST ONE MORE HUG, IF YOU INSIST.” I administer enthusiastic hugs and kisses to each of them, and then make a quick exit.
Note: They didn’t know how to get that extra hug at first, so they tried getting it in inappropriate ways. They tried whining/begging/crying, and I would respond with stern warnings or ignoring, which led to more crying, which led to… craziness. However, in our Behaviour Skills Training practice, we set up this scenario so we both get what we want. We agreed that if they said “Goodnight Mummy!” I would immediately respond with extra hugs and kisses (and I pretend that it’s a complete surprise every time, just for fun.)
Here’s a script to get you started:
“Let’s talk about what kind of bedtime we want. What’s your favourite thing about bedtime? Is there anything you would like to add? Here’s what I would like: I would like to say ‘Goodnight sweetie’ and then I would like you to say ‘Goodnight Mommy/Daddy’ and then I turn out the lights. Then you can have a good sleep, and I can feel happy when it’s time to tuck you in.”
After we agreed on what we both wanted, then we moved on to
I started by playing the role of “The Kid” so of course, they played the role of “The Parent.” I love this part so much. I love hearing them parrot my lines (I’ve heard some very accurate renderings, including a deep sigh and muttering “I need a break…”)
They were giggling the whole time (trust me, it is so much easier to teach Littles who are cheerfully engaged, despite the number of “teachable moments” we spend with Littles who are howling and stomping.) This is also a great time to add what NOT to do, and find out what happens (without having to go through it “the hard way.”)
Now it’s time to switch, and the children play “themselves.” “Goodnight children!” “Goodnight Mommy!” *smooch smooch smooch.* (end of scene)
It’s important to add a lot of encouragement and praise to this section, so that children can associate the routine with fun and positive attention.
“Ok, guys, remember what we practiced! What am I going to say? And what will you say?”
Very often, children are much more able to perform well when they are prepared and motivated. If you encounter a few hiccups the first time, don’t panic. Think about what went wrong, and practice your Behaviour Skills Training steps a few more times.
What if it doesn’t work?
In my case, my older son wanted to add a few more steps to the routine to keep us in the room. He always repeats the same three “questions” and I was not completely happy with the extra delay. I thought about it, and realized that the questions were completely fine, but the timing was off. I didn’t want to answer them with one foot out the door, so I started prompting him to ask the questions BEFORE I said goodnight. A win-win situation!
Now, go, do some plotting, scheming and playing with your kids, and let us know how it works out!
** A big thank you to Amelia Bowler of https://ameliabehaviour.com/! Stay tuned for a freebie from her in the next few days here at Parenting with ABA!
Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA