For about three weeks my toddler Leo (28 months) had become adamantly defiant at bedtime when it came to putting on his pyjamas after some nekid time after his bath, out rightly refusing to put them on. I had to fight with him every single night to get into them and it usually ended up with me forcing him down (after chasing and catching him which is no simple feat when pregnant) and hurriedly getting them on him, which I despised. It would foul up my mood for the rest of the evening. This was regardless of how much time I would give him to be nude, or cajole him into reading stories, or asking him politely, or addressing his feelings of reluctance, etc. He still refused and then put on a smirk, taunting me.
Well at some point I snapped after he fought me as usual and happened to kick my pregnant stomach, to which I automatically reacted by smacking him on the thigh and then roughly dressing him. I was fuming by this point so I left the room with him crying in surprise and obvious hurt behind me to calm down. He followed me looking so betrayed (I don’t use punishment or physical harm to discipline on principle, hence the shock value) but all I could focus on was how I could not handle him being rude and defiant to me despite how reasonable I had been with him previously. I realised he was a toddler and pressing buttons is what they do, however wearing pyjamas is non-negotiable as he does not use blankets by choice so he needs to be dressed. I knew by this point that this situation had gotten out of control as I was developing anxiety around even thinking about bedtime. I felt like I NEEDED him to cooperate when it came to bedtime otherwise I would have added difficulty once this babe was born and was already sleep deprived.
So I then reached out to my mom circles and was given all sorts of helpful ideas on how to possibly tackle this situation.
I started by allowing him to pick out his pj's as a means of giving him more control but he just ignored me and said that he just wanted to be naked. This was right after his bath when he normally refused to put anything on so I tried letting him have longer nekid bum time then. So I gave him an hour to be nude and then asked him to pick his outfit but he still refused. I could sometimes at this point convince him to put a diaper on, as he does not like the concept of peeing on the floor, but not his pyjamas. Obviously allowing more nekid time was not the solution, nor was allowing him the choice of pyjamas. This baffled me because I had previously convinced him to dress himself into his pj's like a big boy, letting him pick his own (he even picked out new ones at the store!) and practiced dressing himself and was so proud! He was dressing himself the entire week before his Dad came back home from a work-related absence. And then POOF! He didn’t want to wear them at all anymore.
So then I tried dressing him directly in the bathroom and not allowing him the time to be naked at all to bypass the struggle but it was a no go either. He demanded to stay naked and then threatened to go back into the tub to escape me. After about 20 minutes of this Mexican stand-off , I caved. By this point I was too exhausted to try and be playful and just wanted him in bed so that I could get some rest too. I proceeded to chase him into his pyjamas after some nekid time as per the usual. I kept thinking to myself what a stubborn ass he was.
Then it occurred to me that he may have been insisting on sleeping naked because that's how his Dad sleept. His Dad had been away with work for month-long stretches recently and he'd been having a tough time with that. He'd been insisting on only wearing clothes 'like daddy' (button up shirts and cargo pants), among some other behaviours that are directly related to how my husband does things. I think he missed his Daddy a lot and knew that he'd be leaving again for a long time (his dad would be leaving in November for several months) and was anxious about it. That and with a new baby coming, he probably felt a little overwhelmed and out of control.
So then I decided to try a bit harder at showing some empathy. I stopped struggling with it completely and reflected on why I felt that I NEEDED him in his pj’s. My motivation was not simply to be the one in control, but out of concern for him because of how cold it was now due to the weather and because of his lack of blanket usage which meant he needed something else to cover him. Then I considered what the result would be if I did nothing. Logically he would get cold and perhaps that natural consequence would be enough – or he may still sleep through the night and not be bothered by his nudity at all. I wouldn’t know until I tried.
So I began by starting our routine earlier than normal, to avoid burning myself out before we even started. We then went through our typical bedtime routine but I did not mention pyjamas at all. After our stories I had him get into bed and gave him his stuffed monkey, then turned off the lights. He immediately asked to have his pyjamas put on since he was cold. So I complied and then he settled in for the night without a fuss.
Yes, it was that easy.
This would only go on for about 2-3 days, then he began asking to have his pyjamas put on earlier and earlier, even before storytime, and then immediately right after his bath. I’m sure the temperature in the house had something to do with it as well, but nevertheless, at least it wasn’t a struggle anymore. I was completely flabbergasted. I suppose all he needed was the chance to exert his independence and not be coerced into behaviours and instead be listened to. Whatever the reason, letting it unfold naturally was the best option, as usual. Now I felt like the stubborn ass.
You live, you learn. Ha!