Getting J to sleep on time did not become difficult until around eleven years old. Once those puberty hormones arrived so did his independence. Watching a child with Autism and limited verbal skills express independence is like watching fireworks, it’s so exciting to watch, you don’t care if the embers are falling right on your head. So I allowed the bedtime routine to lapse a bit. Then the behavior came. In the morning J was so grouchy and uncooperative and just generally gave me the business. Yes just how every parent wants to start their day with a tween screaming in your face. We were still doing home school at this time and I noticed he was much less attentive and his aggression and outburst were far more frequent throughout the day. Who does their best when exhausted? I know I’m more pleasant and less irritable after a good nights sleep. Now imagine if you didn’t have the verbal skills to express this feeling, that was J.
We had to get back to a routine. So when eight o’ clock rolled around I was quick to put him to bed, but he wouldn’t go to sleep he would turn on his tv, or play with his toys, or read his books. The more stern I became about J going to sleep the more aggressive he became. I didn’t feel he should be rewarded for going to bed on time, that’s just something he should do for his own benefit. So a rewards system was not something I wanted to put into play. I started to look at everything leading up to bedtime and I realized some key factors that were sabotaging the whole bedtime routine:
- Dinner should be at least 3 hours before bedtime – I wasn’t so great about getting dinner ready by five o’ clock especially when I was homeschooling. We finished up lessons around four so I was usually trying to relax from the long day. I realized I would much rather relax with my hubby once J was asleep. I made it my mission to have dinner ready no later than six o’ clock. If I made dinner too late I didn’t punish J by forcing him to sleep only an hour after dinner. I gave him his three hours to digest and even if he went down at ten or eleven it was without a battle.
- Exercise – The nights that were most difficult were days that we were stuck in the house. J was so restless at bedtime. I made a conscious effort to get J outside everyday that the weather was not dangerous. Even if we just went out for a walk, I made sure he was outside for at least sixty minutes and at least four days a week.
- Create a routine – J hated the words ” it’s time to get ready for bed”, just those words alone could send him into a full-blown meltdown. I started to understand why, there was nothing to look forward to except the inevitable moment when he would get in trouble for not going to sleep and his mommy would be mad and annoyed with him. Who’s looking forward to that? So I created a routine, first we brush our teeth together, then we wash our faces, and then it’s shower time for J. After that its pajama time and two book story time, one for us to read together and one that I read to J. I even wrote this out on a board for him so he could have a visual until the routine was second nature like it is now. Lastly, hugs and kisses, lights turn down and a reassuring message of “I’ll see you in the morning my love.”
- Create rules for bedtime – Just because I created this wonderful routine doesn’t mean it worked straight away. J would still get out of bed or on uncooperative nights, kick and bang on the walls while he wailed and screamed sounds of unfairness. After calming my temper, letting go of my worry that the neighbors could hear J carrying on, and trying to understand why he would do this after such a smooth bedtime routine, I realized he needed rules. He didn’t know what he couldn’t do until it was too late and he was being punished for it. So I wrote and laminated a sheet of “Bedtime Rules” and tacked it up, next to his bedtime schedule in his room. We went over every rule together and I made the rules very simple with as few words as possible. One rule was “no yelling and screaming at bedtime” and once he knew this was a rule he understood he could be punished for it.
- Create fair consequences for breaking the bedtime rules – The TV was the big enforcer for us. J always wanted it on, so if any rules were broken the TV went off. I always gave him a warning before that happened and made sure he heard me say, “this is your last warning”, even if it was his first and only. That let him know I meant business. If I had to, I followed through, those nights were rough, but once he realized I would even go so far as to physically remove the TV from his room he got with the program. I was wise to create limitations on bedtime TV; one movie or two shows and then bedtime. If J had it his way he would stay up all night watching movie after movie. He was not allowed the remote, we would pick what he wanted to watch together and I would allow him his remote back in the morning, after six.
- Be clear – With J I had to be direct and clear with every expectation I had for him at bedtime, any uncertainty, weakness or unnecessary chatter, and he saw his opportunity to knock the structure down. It all had to be very matter of fact. If bedtime was at eight thirty and I knew it was going to be later for some reason, I would let him know, ” we ate a little later tonight so bedtime will be at nine o’ clock” this way he knew I was still the authority on bedtime. If he gave me sass about handing over the remote I reminded him he could get it back in the morning after six o’ clock and reminded him about the rules. I had to specify the time, one morning he actually came in my room at four o’ clock while my husband was getting ready for work screaming “morning, remote please!” As long as I stayed firm and stuck to the terms I laid out for him he was great, I was amazed at how well he adapted to the routine after a few days, even more so with in a few weeks.
I had my evenings to myself again. It is hard work to establish a routine but well worth it. I remember when it first started working and J would be asleep by nine thirty, me and Big J would look at each other like what do we do now? We figured something out.
*TIP- At one Point J kept popping out of bed with all kind of excuses, he needed to use the bathroom when he didn’t, he wanted water when he already had some. I borrowed this tip from ” The Supper Nanny”. Supper Nanny Tip for Keeping Kids In Bed. His first time out of bed, I would lead him back by the hand, remind him it’s bedtime, tuck him back in and give him hugs and kisses again. The second time I would remind him it’s bedtime again but a little firmer, tuck him back in, hugs and kisses again. By the third time and then on, no verbal communication just tuck back in. J used to get so angry once he knew what I was doing, this too became a routine. He would flip out in the beginning but once he realized his interactions with mom were done for the day and it was indeed bedtime, he actually gave up and stayed in bed. After difficult nights I made it my business to spend more quality time with J during the day so I wouldn’t feel guilty when he pulled this at night. Knowing he got enough of my time during the day made me feel confident enough to enforce this.
Even now at thirteen we still follow the bedtime routine and as long as we do, bedtime is successful and J is much more cooperative throughout the day at school and at home. I hope this post helps anyone out there having trouble getting their little ones to sleep let me know how it goes or if you have any questions.