How to Get Your Child To Sleep, Or Not, As The Case May Be


“Mummy, can I have my red plane?”

It is 8.30pm, and Piglet has just appeared at the kitchen door, where I am trying to wolf down my dinner as quickly as possible before the next interruption.  It’s the fourth time he has made a bid for freedom from the tyranny of bedtime; the last involving him simply hovering at the top of the stairs for goodness knows how long until I happened to pass by, so that he could tell me he had seen a firework on the window of the nearby flats.  I poked my head through the curtain, convinced I was going to see some sort of Bonfire Night riot taking place across the street, with fireworks being thrown from the flats and local ruffians marauding down our cul-de-sac with barrels of burning tar.  There is nothing there except a lone figure on a balcony, smoking ( a cigarette, not smouldering in a pile of ashes) and the sound of distant whizzes and bangs.  It’s not a great night for getting Piglet to sleep.  This is a child who will out of nowhere discover an urge to poo and spend twenty minutes straining to do so, just to buy a bit more time in the evenings before the blanket of sleep finally envelops him.

It’s 9.30pm, and there has been no sound from upstairs for half an hour.  I slowly settle into the nightly routine of scanning through my phone for the latest political outrage, satisfied that finally Piglet is asleep, and I can get on with the important business of the day, like loading the dishwasher and having a cup of tea.  All of a sudden, there’s a rustling sound and I look up and see him, standing triumphantly at the top of the stairs sporting a mask and demanding that I call him Spiderman.  Thus is the behaviour of a child with the Fear of Missing Out and the will to drive his mother to an early grave with sleep deprivation.  How is he still awake?  Things went quiet ages ago.  What has he been doing all this time?  HOW IS HE GOING TO GET UP FOR SCHOOL TOMORROW?

He has always been a fighter of sleep.  My mind returns to the days of Piglet’s infancy, when I would spend endless hours rocking him to sleep in our flat in London at midnight as the lights of the flats around me flickered off, and the afternoons of maternity leave spent wandering around a blustery Wembley Stadium while he stared at me, wide awake and alert in his pram at naptime.

But now he is four, and at school, and he needs his sleep more than ever, right?  If he doesn’t sleep, then he won’t learn, and I will be the guilty mother of that child who falls asleep in class because he has NO BOUNDARIES AND I HAVE FAILED AS A PARENT.

Do other people have this problem, I wonder, furiously googling to see how the rest of the world’s parents deal with four year olds who refuse to sleep via the medium of desperate conversations on Netmums.  I bet they at least get to alternate their pain with someone else.  Am I a terrible mother?  Should I just cave in and breastfeed him to sleep-the very thing I’ve been trying to avoid?  He has to stop eventually, right?  RIGHT?  I consider complaining and petitioning to a hypothetical God as to why He has, in His wisdom, given me a child who won’t sleep, and then I remember that that same child who won’t sleep is also a child who turns to me in earnest during Strictly Come Dancing and says, “Mummy, when I’m a man I’m going to pick you up like that” every time he sees a lift, and my heart melts a little.

And anyway, he’s got to go to sleep on his own at some point, right?  Right?

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