I remember a time when my little boy was learning to speak. He would make his demands with a question: "Habit?"
In this instance, "habit" was toddler-ese for "have it?" meaning, "May I have this now please."
Depending on how you look at it, habit and have it are close enough in meaning -- in either instance, it is a way of communicating, "I want it, and I want it my way."
I'd finally have her in bed, having said the right words in the right order, and might settle in for a moment before her encore performances began, generally with screams from down the hall.
"I CAN'T HEAR MY MUSIC!"
"MOMMY, MY WATER SPILLED. I NEED NEW JAMMIES. I NEED NEW COVERS, AND THE FLOWER SHEETS, AND NEW WATER."
"IT'S TOO DARK."
If not assaulted with the screams, I was ambushed by the soft shuffling of her little feet padding down the hall to find me.
"Mommy, I'm scared."
"I need to pee."
"I can't find my blankies."
I would comfort her, set her up again and ask, no beg, for her to please stay in bed. My threats were meaningless. My pleas ignored.
The bedtime routine, aka bedtime the way I say it is, had been turned upside down. I was being played. I knew it and she knew it. I sat there with head in hands, continuing the game in exhaustion and frustration.
As I complained to my kind and empathetic friends, mothers with girls the same age give or take a few months, I was met with compassion, understanding, and a reality check: "You know you're being manipulated, right?"
Yes, I knew.
Of course I knew.
I knew and I played along fearing the consequences should I -- or she -- change the rules.
I want things my way all the time and so does she.
In order to break the cycle, I introduced a new element to the game. The sticker chart. The good old-fashioned bribe. If she stays in bed at night, she gets a sticker. Five stickers earns her a prize.
Stickers and prizes and trips to the mall? How could she lose?
In the next round, she raised the stakes by getting up before dawn. I countered with a new requirement: a sticker was awarded for staying in bed at night and in the morning. Her response: cries in the middle of the night in addition to visits to my bed in tears and fear.
And when those stopped, do you know what happened?
I missed her. I missed being needed, missed trying to figure out what she'd do next.
I found myself making nightly visits to her room. See, she tends to fall out of bed, not always but often enough. I needed to check because I hadn't heard from her, and gosh, isn't she lovely when she's sleeping and not yelling?
If we were to interact post-bedtime, it would be on my schedule, not hers.
We were moving forward and for a time, all was right and good in the world in which we both slept uninterrupted at night in our own beds.
All was fine, that is, until one day when I commended her for staying in bed, for being brave all night by herself and for playing quietly on her own when she woke. She had made me so proud, being such a big girl and not visiting when she wasn't supposed to.
She smiled, happy and confident. "Now I don't visit you."
"But it's o.k. that you visit me?"
Well played, child. Well played indeed.