Thursday, October 05, 2006

Dismaying Story #65: Beyond the Five-Minute Drill

A few months ago I published an article about The Five-Minute Drill, a technique to deal with young children who cry at bedtime and won't go to sleep. Do you go in and soothe them ... only to be right back in the same boat when you leave again? Do you stay out and endure the pain of their protracted crying? The Five-Minute Drill offers an effective third alternative.

A few moms have written to me since then, asking for clarification of how to apply this technique in their specific situations. The following is one such email conversation (with the names removed), which shows how one issue can sometimes hide another.

Dear Andrew,

I tried the 5-minute Drill with my two-year-old and it hasn't worked! I need help! What IS working actually makes me feel really bad.

Two weeks ago my psychiatrist made a suggestion on what I should do: "Hold the Door Shut." I talked it over with my husband and he wasn't okay with it either. After a couple hours of struggling with her I ended up trying his suggestion, and well it worked, kind of. My daughter screamed and banged on the door until she fell asleep on the floor in front of her door. When my husband went to check in on her after her room was quiet for awhile, he woke her up because he couldn't open the door! By this time we were EXTREMELY tired and gave into the evil, sleeping with Mom and Dad. The next night we resorted to holding her door shut again (after trying the 5-minute drill for a couple hours). This time she fell asleep under her bed. We left her there, and around 3 am she woke up and didn't know where she was and freaked out.

I've tried sleeping on her floor until she falls asleep, which I really don't want to make a habit of! I've tried letting her leave her light on and read books. I could go on and on.

Signed, Tired Mom

Dear Tired,

Sorry to hear of your troubles. I would be uncomfortable with holding the door too.

Let me ask you this. How would you handle it if she threw a fit over something she wanted you to buy her in a store? Or over not eating her food? Or over not wanting to wear the clothes you bought her?

Have you done the same thing here? She is throwing a fit over something she doesn't want to do. In those other cases, I bet she would find out in no uncertain terms how upset you were with her behavior and how it is completely unacceptable. Has your feedback conveyed this message in this case? Try using the same approach you would over any other situation where she acts in a way you find unacceptable. Make sure she knows you won't stand for it. Different people use different methods; do what you feel comfortable with.

All the best,

Dear Andrew,

Thank you. It is seriously going to take a very strong front!

She is extreme about everything. If you put her in clothes she doesn't want to wear, she strips the clothes off. If you feed her something she doesn't want to eat, she throws it. Her tantrums in the store...well, that's the reason I refuse to shop without my husband!

She is the sweetest most well-mannered child ON HER TERMS! We'll have to keep working at it...with LOTS of patience!!

Signed, Tired Mom

Dear Tired,

Aha! (Hey, that's fun to say :o) The pattern becomes more clear. She is not just throwing tantrums over bedtime, but about lots of things in life. This is a struggle for control between the two of you. It's possible you are actually showing too much patience in those situations. When you tolerate her tantrums, this can make her feel insecure. Kids need to know that someone is looking after them, that they are NOT in control, because they are incapable of looking after themselves and the world is a scary place if Mom and Dad aren't in control. You need to set firm boundaries on what you consider to be acceptable behavior and take control. You can use whatever strategy you want for giving the message of intolerance (e.g. timeouts, removing both of you from the situation, ignoring the undesirable behavior, whatever you choose) but it must be applied consistently. Every. Single. Time. You must be large and in charge. She needs it, and you definitely need it.

I suspect if you can get on top of this more general issue, the nighttime issue will go away along with it.

All the best,

Not many people have answered this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I'd love to hear about the special friends with whom you always re-connect instantly regardless of how long you've been apart.


  1. your advice was good...reminds me of those nanny shows i've seen on tv with the out-of control kids

  2. My kids were all a handful when young. My older kids turned out ok and I will focus my reply based on them. See my eleven year old never outgrew this, and I can't say how he will turn out.

    I now have two daughters in college. One is going for broadcasting and the other plans to be an attorney. My second youngest son plans to go to tech school.

    But were they a handful when young! Not only did they expect me to take them on my errands, but they expected me to buy them something.

    Even when the destination didn't have something that appeals to kids, like the post office. My kids still found something they wanted. They wanted me to buy each one of them a stamp.

    From there, they thought they needed a fan to lull them to sleep. They thought that mom's have a kid fixed on hip at all times.

    And, they grew up and found out differently. I have a great relationship with my children.

    This will happen.

    It doesn't matter what age they were potty trained when they become 21. It does matter if potty training was done in a nice way, or if it was done in a overbearing way.

    Same thing for everything else in their life.

    From there, put them into school activities. Get creative with them. Kids love a parent who knows how to throw a fun birthday party for them year after year.

    It builds memories.

  3. I'm sure Supernanny has been using that technique over here for about 2 years...

  4. Anonymous10:19 AM

    Those nanny shows scare me! My parents weren't knuckle-busters but it would never have occurred to me to try what some of those kids do.

    I teach Sunday school for four-year-olds, which means I only have kids for a couple of hours a week but I have seven or eight at a time, all the same age. They're all basically good kids, but some of them are known "handfuls" and will test the limits.

    I hear you on the consistency part. I'm probably a little strict (there are seven of them--I have to be) but I always tell them ahead of time what I expect and warn them of what I'll do if they don't live up to it, and even the hot-button ones figure out after a couple of tries that a) I'm not going to push over but b) I'm not going to be arbitrary, either. If they fight over a toy, the toy is mine. If they take a toy into worship and start playing with it, it's also mine (well, until it's time to go home. I don't keep their toys forever, of course). If they hit somebody, they have to stop playing and stay with me until they calm down (sort of a "time out").

    I also make a point of talking to them as much as I can when they're not acting up, so they know that they'll get more and better attention when they're focused and behaving of their own accord. I try to plan activities for them that I know they'll like and that don't outlast their natural sit-still capacity, so I don't set them up to get restless and irritable in the first place.

  5. I have a SUPERHANDFULL and have been through the exact same thing. I suggest putting a gate at her door at night. Put her into bed and blatantly say "you may go to bed or you may play but I am not coming in here again." We did this with our son and it worked. He felt like he was in control so he would get up and play for a while. If he wanted something he would come to the gate and we would scream down the hall "go to bed or play quietly by yourself". After a few nights of him getting up to play, he stopped and would just stay in bed. Now bedtime is not a hassle. He knows when the gate is up, he must be quiet. As for temper tantrums, our son throws them constantly and I do agree it is somewhat of a power struggle. So we put him in his room if he throws a temper tantrum and tell him "you may come out when you are done" if we are out we use the 1,2,3 method. If by the count of 3 he is not calmed down, we go out to the car and let him melt down ALONE (I am right outside the door of the car) and again tell him "you may throw your temper tantrum here". it has reduced the number of times he whines and cries in public.

  6. Interesting and informative as usual Andrew. My days of tantrums are over...unless you count mine!

    Seriously, just popped in to say hello, and tell you that I admire your work.

    Ciao for now...

  7. Very Good advice and I think it's so important to start in the 1st fit! I can't stand it when I see a parent/child combination out and about and the kid is very obviously in charge.