A Lesson from a Wise Night Owl and an Easy Sleeper
By Sally Collings - 9th January 2012
I do wonder who is raising whom, sometimes.
My elder child is a night owl (or "night hour", as she would say). Sleep has never come easily for her; she seems to fight it, and we’ve wrestled through many long evenings with her bouncing out of bed and up the hallway time and time again.
I can hear some of you, dear readers, drawing breath to offer me advice on how to get a child to sleep. Stop right there. I believe I may have heard it all and tried most of it.
This time I decided to bring the message home with a role play. I involved both of my girls: one has empathy and emotional awareness by the bucket load (that’s my night owl) and the other is very cool and pragmatic (that’s my easy sleeper). One afternoon I sat them down on the sofa.
"I want you to understand what it’s like for daddy and me when you keep getting out of bed and you don’t settle down to sleep,’" I explained to them. "So we’re going to play a game."
Their eyes brightened: a game sounded a lot more fun than another lecture from Mum.
I started with the night owl. "Sit here on the sofa where I usually sit, and pretend that you are the mummy and I’m your little girl who can’t get to sleep." Night owl arranged her features in a suitably stern and maternal expression. Do I really look like that, I wondered? No matter.
"I want a drink of water," I pleaded with her. She went along with it and pretended to fetch me a drink.
"Can I sleep in your bed?"
"I’m scared of the dark."
"I’m hungry, can I have some apple slices?"
"Can you sit with me?"
"I can’t get to sleep.’"
We worked through the standard litany of pleas, distractions and excuses, Night Owl looking amused as she pretended to play along.
Now it was the pragmatic one’s turn.
"I want a drink of water.’"
"No, go back to bed.’"
I was a little startled by the knockback, but carried on.
"Can you get me some apple slices?’"
"No, it’s bedtime – go to bed.’"
Hmmm, this was going to be tougher than I thought.
‘Can I sleep in your bed?’
"No, you need to settle in your own bed."
Easy Sleeper parried every approach with ease. What really got to me was the calm, steady way she dealt with each request. No anger but no wavering either – she was really good at this.
It made me realise that I get very caught up in the emotion of the bedtime to-ing and fro-ing. If only I could be more like her …
I expected our role play to end with them both saying, "Oh Mummy, I never knew what it was like for you! I promise to settle straight to sleep every night from now on.’" (Or something like that – a mother can dream, after all.) What I didn’t expect was for me to get a lesson in leadership skills.
Now, who was meant to be teaching whom?
Incidentally, our evenings have improved vastly since then. Maybe it was my fantastic role play (ahem), or maybe it’s because we’ve found some books we all enjoy reading together at bedtime. Either way, my night owl has finally found a way to embrace sleep.