The Seven Stages of Putting a Reluctant Child to Bed

There is a thought among psychotherapists that people process grief in seven distinct stages. From my experience the same could be said of putting an unwilling child to bed; there are seven steps to achieving closure. Coincidentally putting children down to sleep is also like grief in that you can’t put a time frame on it and it normally involves a lot of tears.

  1. Joy

It sounds counterintuitive but problems are looming if a happy child is smiling back at the parent as it drinks its bedtime milk. Any ambitions of sitting down with a lemon squash in front of The One Show can be put aside if your toddler is gurgling away without a care. A single giggle can spell doom, that the game is going the distance, into extra-time and penalties. For a quick ‘putdown-and-run’ ideally the child should ideally be slightly peeved.

  1. Energy

If the child is not ready for sleep then the milk inside it acts like an espresso martini: it fills it with a new vigour for life and an irresistible compulsion to dance. I’ve watched on baby monitors as friends’ children have boinged across their beds before obediently settling themselves down to sleep but if I left my own sons they’d probably boing until sunrise.

  1. Confusion

The whole bedtime process is like reeling in a large and uncooperative fish. Sometimes the hooked fish should be allowed to swim out to the end of the line, tiring itself out before being coaxed back into the net. So after a protracted session of bouncing I gather my child into my cradling arms to enter the next phase. At this point the child will look up in bafflement as if to say: “What’s happening here? Is this a game? If so, please can you let me know the rules?”

  1. Denial

Before long the child begins to understand what is expected of them and protests against it in violent terms. The toddler may start jostling and scrummaging like a rugger. Often this part of the process can come to resemble an ill-conceived interpretative dance between parent and child.

  1. Acceptance

Eventually the child will start to feel fatigue but will attempt to keep spirits high with a song, a sort of anthem of resistance. This can be conceived as a single drawn-out note or a protest yodel. The parent should feel comforted at this point that progress is being made.

  1. Rage

This is the last thrash of the fish. The child sees the dying of the light and makes one last futile act against it. Normally this involves sustained physical abuse: fist-punches to the throat and gripping of the bottom lip to get traction for their escape. At this time the child’s eyeballs may also be rolling back in its head like it’s been possessed by an Old Testament demon so this bit is simultaneously terrifying and pleasing. The anger needs to be managed carefully as it can lead to puking, which adds clean-up time to the process although at least the parent learns what the child had for tea.

  1. Sleep

A child may finally go out like there’s been a power cut inside it. Literally it can be screaming and snoring within a second of each other. The first time I witnessed this I wondered if I’d broken the toddler. Once established that this is not the case then the child can be installed in the cot and the parent can go watch the News at Ten with a very strong lemon squash.

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This Sick Rabbit Will 100% Get Your Child To Sleep

People like to talk with certainty. Like when somebody tells you to go to a particular restaurant because it serves “the best steak in London”. As if they’ve visited every single place in London that serves steak, analysed the strengths and weaknesses of each steak they’ve ordered and then recorded their findings in a massive steak spreadsheet.

This kind of chat is particularly prevalent in parenting circles. I’ve listened on as someone has advised me to buy a life-changing nappy bin or a cup that they absolutely fucking swear by. A special evangelism is inspired by the techniques and routines found in child-rearing guides, the books that tell you to sit your child on a mat and teach it to fetch sticks just so it will sleep better. I have no doubt that these manuals are essential to some families but they fail to recognise that children are different. And perhaps more pertinently so are parents. Children are not DVD players, they can’t be programmed. And I for one can’t program them.

This is why I was suspicious when I found out about The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, a book written by a Swedish psychologist as a means of persuading frisky children off to sleep. It quickly became a bestseller as mummies and daddies the world over used it to put their kids down at night. Its gargantuan success is largely down to it being a set of instructions on to how to hypnotise your child. Hypnosis seems to me like gross cheating, you may as well slip your child some Valium. But I was prepared to give the book a chance given that at the time he should be settling down for the night, the Major prefers to frolic naked up and down the landing, periodically flinging himself on our bed and wiping his genitals on my pillow.

The Rabbit Who is essentially a dramatization of the hypnotist’s mantra “you are feeling very sleepy”. Dramatization is the wrong word. The plot is numbingly tedious, although admittedly a twisty edge-of-the-seat thriller would be self-defeating in these circumstances. The first thing that struck me about The Rabbit Who was the illustrations. They are crude and unnerving, no more than overgrown doodles. The rabbits themselves have sad and swollen eyes, like they’ve got early-onset myxomatosis.

When I read the book to the Major I diligently followed the instructions which require certain words and phrases to be spoken either forcefully or softly. He asked me to stop before I got to the end of the first page. I think he thought that Dadu may have been suffering some kind of breakdown, given the random shouting and whispering.

Fortunately The Rabbit Who is also available as an audiobook, so we set up a CD player on his bedside table. The narrator of the audiobook has a familiar voice that I can’t quite place. It’s suave and sinister at the same time and I’m pretty sure it belongs to a showbiz predator from the 1970s.

The CD was remarkably effective. Unfortunately in a sort of sleep induction ‘friendly fire’ incident it missed its target. I very quickly began to experience the odd sensation of having my eyeballs fondled vigorously from behind and having my head enveloped by the Major’s pillow. My face began to glow with intense heat. The next thing I knew the Major was tapping at my sternum trying to wake his hot-faced dad. I was snoring loudly. It seemed to set a precedent because the Major hasn’t allowed me to play it to him since.

What is informing about this whole experience is that my wife has used The Rabbit Who CD to great effect on most nights. She absolutely fucking swears by it. It just goes to demonstrate that some of the tools of the parenting trade depend entirely on their workmen.

Agent Spitback
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