The sticker system

With Lucy’s “unbirthday” (2½ years) coming up this Saturday, we are noticing that we have a full-fledged toddler in our house, complete with screeching and minor tantrums.

Photo: A peaceful moment, all tucked in to practice for bedtime.

Lucy’s always been a pretty easygoing girl. Once she grew out of her newborn love for bouncing on the Ball and learned to sleep, she started taking life in stride. Even these days, we have a lot of peaceful, snuggly moments. But it’s the toddler-freak-out-times that are really catching out attention.

Again, let me stress — Lucy’s behavior isn’t awful. It just includes periodic hollering (hopefully not when Rosie is trying to sleep), extreme distress when her own way isn’t gotten (evidenced by stamping, flailing, outbursts of tears, and repeated requests), specific and whiny demands (“Papa sit THERE!”), even the occasional attempt to ride her baby sister like a horse. Probably the most challenging piece lately has been…bedtime.

Since Rosie’s birth, Lucy’s bedtime routine has been getting increasingly complicated, including lots of turning on and off of lights, drinking water, various songs, rocking in the chair, holding particular stuffed animals, and having her blankets tucked under her chin just so. Was this due to the stress of a new baby in the house, or just the way of a two-year-old? Hard to know, but we went with it. Mama has gotten the whole routine down to about five minutes, and that feels do-able.

But lately, even with all of the cozy bedtime rituals, Lucy has been calling out repeatedly for more… water, rocking, tucking in, etc. If it were just Lucy in the house, we would be fine with letting her holler for awhile — but Rosie is often sleeping just in the next room, and we’d like Lucy to just go to sleep quietly. Is that too much to ask? Enter our sticker system.

Lucy has the opportunity to earn two stickers every time she goes to sleep (or a sticker and a gummy bear, if she prefers). All she has to do is close her eyes and go to sleep very quietly. We tell her that we’ll be watching and listening to see if she is quiet, and then in the morning (or after naptime), we’ll award her the stickers. This system has borne a lot of success very quickly. The only downside is if Lucy calls out repeatedly, losing both stickers, and still keeps calling out for more (water, rocking, whatever) — what is the recourse then? This happened yesterday, and I ended up telling her that I would not allow her to have dessert with supper if she called out again — and it did work, despite all the parenting books that say this kind of punishment is too far removed from the actual infraction. But I digress.

So far, I’d say we’ve had a 95% success rate over this past week with our sticker system. We’ve got shiny smiley face stickers in all kinds of unlikely places now (including one that I found when changing Rosie’s diaper the other day!), but I’m starting to enjoy our bedtimes again. Hopefully the habit will become permanent before Rosie ingests any more of those stickers!

4 Replies to “The sticker system”

  1. Mo turned 2 and a half yesterday. He has definitely been having 2 year old moments. Mostly he wants to sleep in sissy’s bed, but won’t stay there. When he’s home he wants to go to Grammy’s, when he’s at Grammy’s he wants to go home. Also he always wants to go to the library, church and Bi-mart. And those are never wants, but demands! They are so cute though, it makes it easier to handle. Glad the stickers are helping.

  2. We use shiny smiley face stickers with Abby for our calendar and potty training. (Going very well this time!) I didn’t think that she would connect a “charting system” with reward, but I think she enjoys seeing all the stickers on each day. She even reminds us to put them on when we forget. I still don’t think they’ll replace the jellybean reward yet!

    We’re about to transition Abby to a full size bed, so pray for us!

    btw – so glad to know that we’re not the only ones dealing with demands and tantrums!

  3. Sounds exhausting. But toddlers are. I think you should be darn proud of editing the whole mess into a 5 minute bedtime routine. Our toddlers wanted to have novels read and then we had to have a good book on tape to read them to sleep, in addition! The sticker/gummy thing sounds awesome! They used to have gummy bear vitamins at Whole Foods…

  4. I should clarify that the 5-minute routine is after books. That in itself takes 10-15 minutes, but I don’t mind that so much — books are fun!

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