Do your children awaken you multiple times in the night? Do you lay with your children in bed until they finally fall asleep? Does your child slip into your bed in the middle of the night? Have your children’s sleeping habits driven you to the point of madness? Have no fear! The Sleep Fairy is here!
One night after struggling to put my children to bed when they were 2 and 4, I dragged myself sleepily down the hallway for a moment to be with my husband who was watching the History Channel. I fell to the couch exhausted but waiting for my children to call me from their bedrooms anticipating the up and down of our nightly routine.
As I waited, I focused on the war story in front of me. It was about the prisoners of war in Hanoi during Vietnam. From what I understood, pilots were shot down over North Vietnam and imprisoned for up to seven years. I found myself relating to their symptoms of sleep depravation. They felt detached and confused, forgetful and out-of-touch much like I did after four years of sleepless nights. I felt breathless as I realized the prisoner-like state I had in fact put myself in as a parent.
One day, as I made their beds, I came up with a magical idea blending good psychology (reward systems) and parenting (loving encouragement). That night I set my children down on the couch in the living room and said, “I’ve just received notice that the Sleep Fairy is coming our way.” My 4-year-old daughter said, “Sleep Fairy? Who’s that mommy?” I said, “The Sleep Fairy helps little kids sleep all the way through the night. And when the little kids sleep through the night, they receive a little treat under their pillow.”
Now both of my children beamed at the idea that they could wake up to a surprise! I tucked them into bed, read a story, and kissed them goodnight and then said, “Now, you cannot call for me once I say goodnight.” That’s when my son understood he couldn’t play the up and down game anymore. “But mommy,” he said. “What if I need you?” To that I replied, “Unless you have hurt yourself, you don’t need me. It’s time for sleep. But,” I added to be fair “you can tell me you love me anytime.”
My children slept through that night. They woke up to a toy car, colored pencils or a small candy and got excited for another opportunity for the Sleep Fairy to visit. Some mornings they didn’t make it through the night and the Sleep Fairy did not come. They were disappointed but knew that they had another chance the following night to have a good night sleep.
So how do you employ the Sleep Fairy? Follow these steps:
- Introduce the Sleep Fairy by saying something like, “Did you know that there is a fairy who helps little children get to sleep and stay asleep. All we need to do is say out loud at bedtime, ‘Sleep Fairy we need help sleeping!’ Then you explain that the fairy will bring a gift or treat and hide it under their pillow when they’ve accomplished their goal.
- Be reasonable by requesting specific, reachable goals that your children can achieve. If your child wakes up 10 times a night, then the Sleep Fairy should come is he only wakes 3 times. This goal would change over time.
- Give clear instruction by telling your child exactly what she has to do to earn her prize. “When I say goodnight, you must remain quiet.” Or, “You can only wake me up two times during the night.”
- In the beginning, rewarding every night. You need your child’s behavior to change if you’re ever going to sleep again. Reward every night for up to 30-days to change your child’s pattern.
- After 30-days, change to an intermittent or random reward system. Once you see consistent sleep patterns, tell your children the Sleep Fairy must help other children who have sleep problems. The Sleep Fairy will still visit once in awhile (randomly). Or if your child is more into a schedule then tell him the Sleep Fairy will visit every Wednesday (intermittently).
- Once the behavior is established, the Sleep Fairy will need to move on. You now get your 8 hours of sleep. Explain that Sleep Fairy needs focus on other children full time. Help your child write a letter saying thank you and goodbye.
- Invite the Sleep Fairy back when needed. Children go through stages, don’t they! Some stages bring back old sleep habits and before you know it you’re sleepless again. Take this opportunity to call the Sleep Fairy back. Then-start every night for a week, intermittent for a week and then say goodbye again.
My children call the Sleep Fairy back ever so often now that they are 6 and 9. My son Dylan usually says, “Mommy, I miss the Sleep Fairy. Can she come to visit?” And you know – she always does.