Nanny Jo and the Underwear Solution by Caitlin

Guest post by Caitlin Wray of Welcome to Normal


If you’ve ever watched The Nanny, with Jo Frost - and even if you haven’t – you’re surely familiar with the recommended practice of putting your child back to bed in silence over and over and over (and over and over and over) until they give up and sob themselves to sleep.
I have watched Nanny Jo do this consistently on her show (which I watch occasionally to make me feel better about the chaos in my house, since mine almost never comes close to the chaos she encounters in her travels). Apparently this approach works every time. It’s foolproof.
But is it SPD-proof?
My little SPD Aspie, Simon, was still waking up over a dozen times each night when he was two or three years old. “Tired” doesn’t really do justice to the extent of my exhaustion during those years, before we had a diagnosis that made so many of Simon’s challenges more clear.
Even without a diagnosis, I didn’t have the heart to let Simon sob himself to sleep as a toddler. He co-slept, we slept beside his bed, we held his hand, rubbed his back, got him water, sang lullabyes. None of which really addressed the silent sensory problems he was, unbeknownst to us, stuggling with each and every night. I remember he used to squeeze my pinky finger obsessively, to help him drift off to sleep. It baffled me, but now of course, I understand.
The issue with Nanny Jo’s techniques (which are of course not just hers, but are widespread) is that I’m not sure it’s wise to leave ALL parents universally with the assumption that their child’s sleeping problems are merely excess neediness, and that they should be quashed with a firm and inflexible routine. A routine that includes ignoring what they are saying to you, in favour of a silent and swift return to their bed.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m sure this works for lots of kids. I’m sure many kids are just desperately trying to avoid bedtime with their habitual and incessant requests for more and more accommodations at bedtime.
But that’s not the underlying motivation for all kids.
And that’s why I wish Nanny Jo would consider Simon and The Underwear Solution. I started thinking about Nanny Jo one night recently, when Simon (who’s been a pretty good sleeper since about age 5) came downstairs 6 times after being put to bed. He complained he was too hot, itchy, “zappy”, uncomfortable. He was getting distressed in that urgent sensory way.
My initial response was a heavy sigh (as I bid farewell to my dream of sitting down for the first time all day, with a remote control and a TV show that didn’t involve animation). I coaxed Simon back up to bed over and over, with lots of supportive, kind words, a few extra snuggles and back rubs.
But nothing was working. Every time I thought he’d gone to sleep, he would thump down the stairs again to complain of his discomfort. I felt myself growing more and more impatient. Like an old thermometer with the mercury rising steadily inside me, I was losing my cool.
But I summoned all of my inner calming resources, and I resisted the urge to lay down my usual “I’ll have to close the door” threat, because I could tell something really was bugging him. Instead, I just tried to be kind, understanding, and offered a few possible solutions. None of which worked, but the very fact that I was ‘on his side’ seemed to keep Simon calmer.
On the 9th time down, Simon proclaimed with pride “I’ve figured it out! I know why I am too hot. I can’t have PJ shorts overtop of my underwear, it’s just too hot”. And so off came the undies. And that was the end of Simon’s
pilgrimages up and down the stairs that night, as he promptly drifted off to sleep, having figured out the solution to his own problem.
It was after that, when I began to imagine how that night would have looked if I’d been enforcing Nanny Jo’s “return to your bed at once in silence” approach. Obviously, it would have been a much different story to be telling you right now. A story that culminated in a meltdown. A story in which no one really learned anything about anyone, least of all themselves.
Listening to our kids’ fears and discomforts at bedtime is not just important when they are physically uncomfortable, but when they are emotionally unsettled as well. This week, Simon started back at all his extra-curriculars after the Christmas break. It’s an adjustment for him, and he’s anxious about it. For him, bedtime is when his anxieties start to pile up as he reviews the past day, and anticipates the one to come. Sometimes, this review/anticipation process can become really overwhelming for him, and he needs help to settle.
Sometimes all he needs is some calming sensory work while he lies in bed. But other times, Simon – like all children – really needs that magical kind of reassurance that only the most special treatment from our Mama’s can provide. I think most of us have a spidey sense about those times in our child’s life when we need to toss out the rule book, and go with our gut – and more importantly, our heart.
A few nights ago, Simon was becomming really distressed as he tried desperately to go to sleep. He said it was like a “big bouncy ball of ideas and worries bouncing around inside my head”. The bouncy ball of worries and ideas was relentless, and I could see Simon vibrating with stress, and beginning to spiral with anxiety.
It was time to bring out the big guns. The tender loving care that you don’t really find in most parenting books. So I moved Simon into my big king sized bed, with the big fluffy pillows, and I got him his favourite book (the Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary). I told him I’d be back to check on him in 5 minutes. I could already see the tension leaving his body, and relaxation moving in.
Five minutes later I came up with a peanut butter sandwich cut out with a dinosaur shape cutter. His smile lit up the room. Relaxation was beginning to win the war.
Five minutes after that, I brought him a little hot chocolate. And that clinched the deal. Anxiety was banished, fears and worries dissolved into that mug of warm, chocolatey goodness; and sleeplessness was conquered by something as simple as a mother’s love.
Five minutes later, I peeked through the door to see Simon snuggled up tight, fast asleep. His dad carried him back to his bed, and all was right with the world.
Now, Nanny Jo would likely say I reinforced his negative feelings about bedtime and coddled him into a new bad habit. But I would counter that with this: I did nothing more for Simon, than I would do for myself on a night when I was having a lot of trouble settling into sleep. A good book, a healthy snack, a cup of something warm. The knowledge that you are loved. These things are priceless, and should not be discarded so easily in the name of an efficient bedtime.
The next night, Simon had a much easier time going to bed. And I think what alleviated most of his stress, was simply knowing he could count on me to bend the rules, and defy Nanny Jo, when the rules just weren’t meeting his needs. Because in the end, Nanny Jo is just a nanny.
But I'm the Mom.


Jodey/Fat Chick Biker said...

Beautiful post. I think your solution was just perfect.

And I think sometimes we as adults expect our children to go to bed at the same time every night because that's what they are "supposed" to do. But ya know, as adults, we DON'T do that (for the most part, anyway). Every day is different, and I think we would do well to remember that.

Jaimee said...

What a fantastic post Caitlin!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Thank you for putting into words things I have felt. I love that we all have that Spidey sense (inner voice, gut instinct). Definitely gonna borrow your expression! My son's anxieties also tend to rise up at bedtime. I so love that Simon was able to figure out what was so uncomfortable. Isn't that our real goal as parents? To provide an environment for our children where they learn how to problem solve (and more)? Kudos to you, Caitlin.

JandDsmom said...

Perfect post! Even with meltdowns, rages, OCD issues before bedtime, etc. I've never been able to do that to my oldest son by any means. There is usually a legit reason he is up and down all night. That's not to say that it doesn't get the best of me sometimes though.

It's not like he prefers the attention or even sleeping somewhere else. He refuses to sleep anywhere but his own bed and has done it that way for years. So, cheers to you on your post, it was perfect and lie Jodey above me said, we all would do well to remember that they have good days/nights and bad ones too, including our little ones.

Jodi said...

You go, Girl.
It irritates the crap out of me that people expect children to be trained like dogs. SPD, Autism, and every other label be damned. These are CHILDREN. And let’s talk about the lesson we’re actually reinforcing. “Trust me during the day to get your needs met, but you’re on your own between 7pm and 6am”. I have so called normal children (whatever that means) and I fought the tide of sleep pressures for YEARS. Neither child slept well from birth. The fact they slept at all had to do with exactly what the end of your post described. We met their needs daily. They slept in our beds, on me, with a soother, with a breast, in my arms, whatever it took. They left our bed on their own (so you also ditch that myth that your child will never leave or it will be a fight) and when they call from their beds, we go. EVERY TIME. And guess what? I have two children, who when told it’s five minutes until bedtime, get up, get their jammies, brush their teeth, have their book, and go happily to their beds to fall asleep and 90% of the time wake up 10-12 hrs later. Do you know WHY my children can do this? They trust me to help them if they need it. They are secure and safe in their beds, and secure and safe in the knowledge that someone they love will help them whenever they need us. Does this mean I’ve never barked go back to bed? Of course not, those are the one too many drinks of water nights. I’m still giving them what they need, clear boundaries. But I had to also trust MYSELF, because the entire world told me to let them cry, I was spoiling them, I’ve created bad sleep habits, and on and on. Bullcrap. My kids needed extra time to adjust to sleeping, sleeping on their own, and for a long stretch. I gave it to them. And aside from now being able to enjoy a full night’s sleep, I can rest easy knowing I have sown the seeds of full, complete, and long lasting trust in my children. This will come in handy over the next dozen years of parenting, don’t you think?

Patty O. said...

This is absolutely fantastic! Years ago, before my sister had a kid with SPD and special needs, she gave me a Nanny Jo book. I think she thought it would help me. But, I found most of its advice didn't help me at all. Most of the parenting advice in general didn't help. In fact, a lot of it hurt!

WHen I read that last example where you helped Simon calm down, what occurred to me was that you succeeded in your goal, which was to help him calm down. You also taught him some skills for self-soothing. Sometime he might ask you if he can snuggle in your bed, if he's feeling anxious.

Nanny Jo claims that her method helps kids learn to self-soothe and i can see how it might work for some kids. However, with our SPD kids or even kids who are just sensitive, this tactic of letting your kids cry it out can actually have the opposite effect: it could make it even more traumatic for him/her.

I have found so many situations like the underwear one where when I listen to Danny, I find out exactly what is wrong. It just takes a bit of time and patience sometimes.

This is the best post! Such a good reminder that parenting is never one size fits all!

Anonymous said...

thank you. We are struggling with this very issue. Again. Grrrrr. I'm waiting for my son to figure out what is bothering him, because right now he's seeking sensory input while he's sleeping...from me and me only. I'm exhausted. And I thought I needed supernanny, but I really just need Caitlin!!

Martianne said...

This actually made me get teary as I recognized more of Daddy in your techniques than Mommy.

During a recent 9-day-away spell for Daddy, I once again got our son and daughter to go to sleep on their own and began to get frustrated when daddy came home and 'set us back' by staying in with our kids "too long" for cuddles, storytelling, and horrors-be, falling asleep together. Go figure, he always liked Spiderman while I liked, um the Waltons. My "Goodnight, John-boy" technique often works for my kids and I together these days, but, when Daddy is home, another method might be more in order. Hmmm....

Daddy has that "Spidey sense" and as i read your post, I recognized that just Daddy being in the house provides our kids (particularly our son who has soooo much trouble getting to sleep) different input, thoughts and habits. Maybe I should be a little more lenient with "the routine". Thank you!

And, awesome problem solving with your son by the way!

Cat said...

The other night my son had a similar experience with being anxious for no known reason and I sent him back to bed 1/2 a dozen times and nothing seemed to help. Finally I caved and said come have a snuggle with me. The look of relief on his face was amazing he came and snuggled with me and was out like a light in less than 5 minutes. I should have realised something wasn't right when he kept getting up because he doesn't normally do that.

Your post also makes me think about my sons PJs it is the middle of summer here and my son keeps wanting to wear his winter PJs and I have told him that no he can't because it is too hot. It never occurred to me that it may be a sensory issue driving his desire to wear the long PJs will have give it a go next time he asks.

Dawn @ Seeking Sense said...

This is a wonderful post. We have a bed time but it isn't set in stone - the intention is to get the kids ready to go to bed, get the idea of going to bed in their heads, but more often than not we find story time goes longer or there is more singing needed or rocking, etc. But believe it or not they still end up going to bed. When I'm asked what time my kids go to bed I always say we start around 7pm... because who knows exactly when they'll finally feel comforted enough to relax and let sleep take over.

Shell said...

I think SuperNanny is fabulous...but I do not believe that there is only one solution for all kids. We really do have to listen to our instincts about each of our kids.

Yvette said...

Great post! I worked very hard when the boys were infants to teach them how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, which they did, but I could never carry out Super Nanny's black-and-white solution. However, I have found that a consistent bedtime routine is actually a huge help in determining my boys' varying sensory needs. Since we do it the same way at the same time every night, it is easy to know when something out-of-the-ordinary is going on. For instance, I typically swaddle my youngest in a weighted blanket and bounce with him on a huge ball while I sing 5 songs, then count down from 10 to "blast off" to bed. Most of the time, he goes happily to bed and falls quickly to sleep. But every once in a while, he protests the countdown and names another song, which tells me he needs more input/attention before he feels comfortable. I would never dream of telling him no, effectively honoring our routine more than his needs. My kids thrive on the consistency of our routine, but it is a tool, not a taskmaster.

Heather said...

I used The Nanny's technique when moving my boys from cribs into toddler beds. The new found freedom of the big boy bed was too much for them to handle. Once they were used to sleeping in that bed, I banished her techniques. If my boys are getting up over an over again there is a reason. I need to discover that reason and deal with it.
This post is a great reminder that someone's suggestions are just that - suggestions. We know our children best and need to parent them as such. Thanks for sharing this!

Valerie Foley said...

Is it oooky to say, I Love You, Caitlin??

Billy's sleep issues were solved with one simple request, 'Hug me.' We literally squish him to sleep. Takes less than a minute.

And here is the only place I will write this, because in the NT world, they'll be thinking I'm completely psychotic.

Hell, now that I see it written down, even I've got my doubts.

Making Sense of the Senses said...

What a great post!!
I am so thankful for my little SPD little girl. God knew I needed her so I could grow and learn. I always joke with my husband and tell him how she is teaching me instead of the other way around. I had to throw away all the old notions about parenting that I thought were written in stone. Self doubt creeps in every once in a while, but when I see the progress my daughter is making by paying attention to her unique needs helps me get through each day. Thanks again for a wonderful post.

Niki said...

Oh how I agree! As a side note, my husband always says... "How many kids does Nanny Jo have??"

Because you are right... you are the mom!

We are co-sleepers here on a lot of nights! And the rule that a lot of people have about no drinks after going to bed does not meet my son's needs. He truly is thirsty and would fixate on that if we don't get him a drink. However, if we the adult are thirsty, what do we do?
And I love the too hot story! Mine only sleeps in his pull up. Pajamas are for fun before bed, they never stay on!

I'm truly glad I found your blog! I love your stories, thanks for sharing!

Katie said...

Love it. And Jodi summarizes my opinion perfectly... my kids are still my kids at night, and it's still my job (and honor) to take care of them if they need me (which is not often, now).

Caitlin Wray said...

Thanks everyone for the great feedback :) I know the supernanny does some great work with families who seem on the brink of catastrophe, and I respect that. I just wish our culture didn't try to transpose what happens on tv, into an image of what every family should be doing. What I don't like about supernanny is that there is an inherent message in the show that her techniques work for everyone.

I thought this might strike a chord with a lot of parents, because many of us are discovering that what becomes popular in the media as "the new" parenting method, often has no relationship whatsoever to the reality of our own family.

Unfortunately, parents are often judged by how close, or how far, we are from the contemporarily popular parenting fads.

Fortunately, love never goes out of style :)

Gavin Bollard said...

We NOW use Nanny Jo's timeout rules but they've only just become effective in the last two years. (ie: since my youngest hit 6).

On TV she successfully uses the technique with much younger children.

I'm not sure if it's the spectrum or the individual that makes the difference but you need to be flexible.

Certainly you need to be aware that there are issues of comfort and insomnia which can seriously affect those on the spectrum.

Great post!

Lelah Kimball said...

Can you say required "reading not only for every parent, but every teacher"? It's about respect for all parenting choices and not meeting some standard. I'm glad to see you are not participating in the Parenting Wars.

Dréa said...

I totally love this advice. Another helper for anxiety is Bach's Rescue Remedy. It works WONDERS, I tell you, wonders.

Anonymous said...

Jo does a lot that I would do with my eldest two children, that I would never do with my youngest (autistic) son.

But then, she also does a lot that I would just never do... with any kid, my own, kids I know, kids I've never ever seen in my life.

It is the paradox of being a parent: we need to be able to know and set rules and routines, but also know when they just don't apply "right now".

Yellow Robin said...

great post, thanks so much!

Casdok said...

With our kids its about being crestive!

ShesAlwaysWrite said...

We discontinued services with the Behavior Therapist almost immediately after Bear's diagnosis because his techniques were very like Nanny Jo - one size fits all and no consideration for what might an individual child might need, let alone what my special needs child needed!

We still struggle with bedtime, but over time we learn little things that make it go a tiny bit smoother (who knew he wouldn't have a screaming meltdown when it's time to shut the door if we let *him* do the shutting?). Now, he will sometimes even let us leave the room and actually go to sleep instead of throwing himself against the door while screaming bloody murder!