‘Night night, sleep tight’ are words that I don’t really say to the boy. They are not in the routine, because they suggest I won’t be coming back up the stairs or seeing him until morning. And to him, that is upsetting.
Since he was able to sleep in a cot at around 6 months or so, E has needed physical contact to help him fall asleep. To begin with he would grasp my little finger as I stretched my hand down into the cot, my feet on tiptoes. I don’t think I ever fell asleep in that position, but there was often a dead arm feeling or a rush of blood to the head.
When he was big enough for a bed, maintaining that physical closeness was easier. Sitting together reading stories, my arm round him til he fell asleep. I can’t even remember at which point I realised his dependence on that contact to lead him to sleep. It wasn’t just physical contact. It was me. Daddy didn’t quite do the same job. Probably because he didn’t do it exactly the same way. There was the expected back rubbing and a lot of hand contact, Ethan balling his fist and twisting and turning it in the curved palm of my hand. He still does this. There was a stage of him pulling my hand to cover his eyes and then positioning my fingers to rest on his closed eyelids. When he was a toddler, going to sleep with a dummy, he would push my fingers hard into the little air spaces each side. Sensory seeking? I think so.
I went through a period of time when I tried hard to wean him off this contact so he could go to sleep independently. In the end I decided it was no sacrifice really, snuggling with him, singing, praying, reading until he fell asleep. Surely he wouldn’t need this still when he was a big, big boy?
My parents would come to stay, or we would have friends in the house for the evening, and I would spend anything up to an hour each night sitting with him to go to sleep, with Tony entertaining guests downstairs. If I left him on his own to settle, it would result in a late awake and tired boy who then needed the whole routine anyway when it was my bedtime.
The curious thing was, that if Tony and I were out and a babysitter was in the house, he seemed able to settle and sleep fairly easily. It was curious too, that if I went out on my own, leaving Tony to do bedtime, then invariably Ethan’s face would be peering through his bedroom window on my return. Waiting for the routine. Not so curious I hear you say. He’s got you wrapped round his little finger!
And we did have a routine. Back rubbing, singing lullabies, lavalamp, meditation music and praying. I began to be able to judge the very moment when it was safe to say, ‘I’m going downstairs for a cup of tea now.’ Then this sequence of words would follow…
‘Ok . You’re coming back?’
‘Yes. I love you.’
‘Love you too.’
This became a winning sequence and invariably I would hear no more from him and go back to a sleeping boy later in the evening.
When he had his ADHD diagnosis and the sleeping situation was discussed with his doctor, she suggested and we accepted, the use of melatonin to get him over to sleep. This helped a lot and reduced the routine time by about half.
He has just got a new bed. One of these climb up the ladder to sleep and with a desk underneath. It means that I cannot physically snuggle beside him. No way can I tackle that ladder. I do still climb up onto a chair (precariously), hold his hand and stay until the meditation app is in full flow.
Recently, turning 11 and entering his final year at primary school, it is apparent that he understands that some of his routines and sensory issues are not experienced by most of his peers and that he is different. He is trying to cross the river, wading at times, into a new territory which involves letting go at bedtime and trying new foods (a whole other post). I was trying to think of other things to add to that list, but couldn’t, and figure that two things at a time is enough for anybody to be working on!