Monday, March 17, 2008

Cheer up, Brian!

Doom and gloom is, like, so depressing!  And Cheery Chicken has to go and talk about murdering horsies today!  sigh.

In an attempt to not drive all my readers away permanently, by sheer weight of the world's burdens, I'm going to write about something a little more palatable.

Singing your children to sleep.

I sang my boys to sleep until the younger was what- 4? or 5.  A long time.  And every night, with very few exceptions.  Spouse and Spice share(d) the chore sometimes; but frankly I like doing it, and kind of stole this job when I could.

It started with my first child- when I was youngish and raring to go forth and prove that education is useful.  As far as I know, I just thought this up- by using what I knew-

People expect singing to soothe the child; but I set out to intentionally CONDITION the baby to fall asleep when I sang.

Babies, and children, sometimes are at odds with their parents regarding the timing of sleep.  This probably comes as a shock to the non-parents out there, but alas, it's true.  Sometimes, when you are dead tired and want sleep- the little stinkers won't.  And won't let you, either.

It would be SO wonderful to be able to wave a magic wand, say "sleep, beautiful child", and have the little boogers just conk out.  PLEASE.

So.  I tried singing.  Guess what?  The dirty so-and-so WAKES up to listen.  Hey, new, interesting!  I can wave my feet in time!

Back to the alleged thought processes.  What do we know about triggering desirable behaviors?

Pavlov comes to mind, though it's not more drool I want, it's SLEEP.

With somnolence aforethought then, I made an EFFORT.  I made it a point to be there, when the durn critter was already falling asleep because of sheer exhaustion.

DON'T start to sing- until the child is nine-tenths gone.  Sing softly.  Continue singing for a good minute after the creature is clearly asleep.

Then do it again.  And again.  Then start singing when the kiddle is HALF asleep.  Repeat.

Then start singing just as they're getting sleepy.

You should be getting the idea by now.  You are getting sleepy...  drowsy... so warm and comfortable, it's hard to keep your eyes open...  you will send me money, lots and lots of  money...

While just the sound of your voice is a big part of it, having one particular song for the exact transition works even better.  When the child is actually conditioned, singing in the accustomed way can MAKE the child sleepy, and put them to sleep; ready or not.

We started this process with Smidgen way back there.  Now that she's 3, it's a major part of nightly ritual.  Sure, it takes time, but it's a treasured bit of the day, for all concerned.  It takes precedence over any other urgency- the kid needs to go to bed NOW- I have to be there, to sing.

Have to.

At this point, Smidgen is highly aware of it all- and puts pressure on for...  MORE.  Don't wanna go to sleep yet, sing me another song.

Ok, smarty... here's one... in French.  Ha.  Slipping a little education in, and you don't even know it.  Now I get "sing me porkwa"  on a regular basis.  I do provide a translation, too- this is "Dites moi", from "South Pacific".  

So you can expand your repertoire, and the child's.  There's an awful lot of songs that have lessons in them one way or another.  You get to choose.  And you can make up your own- sticking in bits of things from today's events- or tomorrow's.

And you can play, always.  Sometimes I sing "Raindrops on roses" - and sometimes I sing "Raindrops on noses".  Keeps her on her toeses.  Mostly I get a little wriggle and grin and a "nooooo.  Start over."

But the conditioning still holds.  When it's really TIME; I start to sing "All the pretty little horses" - and on the second line- Smidgen will yawn.  95% certainty.  The second time I sing it- she's dropping off fast.  The third time- which is hummed- she's out; sinking down into deep stable sleep.

At the end of that- ha!  she's putty in my hands.  :-)  I can slip my arm out from under; straighten her out, even move her to another bed- and she will not wake.

This is useful in sickness, too; when the child is waked up off schedule, miserable, can't sleep- a little cuddling, and the song- and they'll relax, and sleep.  Also in strange places; traveling...

Thank you, Pavlov.

I haven't ever tried to calculate the hours out of my life spent singing to my children.  It has to be many hundreds, by now.   

Thanks, kids.


MissAnna said...

What a great way to end their (and your) day! I think I would be tempted to explore your experiment further--does Smidgen get sleepy when other people sing? And will she get sleepy midday if you start singing to her out of the blue?

Greenpa said...

Missanna- not all singing is sleep-making, thank goodness. It's context sensitive. Both my boys grew up to have very serious singing experiences in college- CDs, and tours. Smidgen sings to her dolls, sometimes, and sometimes-just because. (video down lower in post)

Valerie Roberson said...

I also have this tradition with my kids. She's 8 today, and our "last" song (which she inexplicably calls "Baby Burns" a phrase nowhere to be found in the lyrics, and with some very creepy connotations) will still put her out to this day :)
Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I sing my daughter to sleep too. Our "last" song is "Silent Night," verse one in English and then in German. I think this year was the first year she did not doze off at the Christmas Eve church service when the song came up ...

Anonymous said...

It also works on adults. I used to listen to the soundtrack to "The Last of the Mohicans" every night as I was going to sleep, all the way through high school. Now, I have a very hard time hearing that music without starting to drop off. My best friend has a similar response to a particular Mozart flute concerto that she listened to when she was going to bed when she was younger. Self-conditioning!

Now, if I could just figure out some way to implant in my brain the same sort of conditioning, only geared against picking my cuticles...

Anonymous said...

Such a lovely post. Thank you.

jewishfarmer said...

We have the same traditions - the last song is the Jewish bedtime prayer Sh'ma, but before that we go through "Trip to Dreamland"
"Summertime" and "Show me the Way to Go Home" (It'll be amusing to see them see Jaws for the first time ;-).

It is amazing how song routines have magic in a host of ways - getting the kids to head up to bed is magically easier if I just sing "The boys go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah!" - they've been doing it so long, they autopilot straight up the stairs


Pen of Jen said...

I came over from Crunchy Chicken and have spent a few minutes reading a few of your posts.

I first must say I really never sang much until I had children. Once the kids arrived I realized how very calming even an off pitch poor melody could sound if it came from my children's momma!

I agree wholeheartedly with the post on why people are hungry and am totally inspired by your living off the grid! My husband and I are going much is enough? And have went from high pay salary to less than 20K a year and realize that 20 is way more than enough.

But it requires learning how to not...using less, and living not of the world, but simple.

I really enjoyed my visit and appreciate that you have taken the time to blog.

my blog on my life off learning

Anonymous said...

It doesn't have to just be songs. When I was small, my last bedtime book EVERY NIGHT was the Dr. Seuss classic "The Sleep Book." To this day, I can't hear more than 3 or 4 lines of it before I start to yawn. My husband has to read it to my kids or else I fall asleep before the book is finished.

Anonymous said...

I used reading with my daughter to wind her down to sleep. It went well into her teens and just recently she has called from college asking for some evening reads when she's stressed. Cute!

But I used singing in the morning instead of an alarm clock. She was NOT a morning person! Singing a few good morning songs (as the one from Singing in the Rain) seemed to let her edge into wakefulness with less 'attitude'.