What I Learned About Judgment When My Toddler Wouldn’t Sleep

(I first wrote this weeks ago in early December, but never got around to posting it.  Over the holidays Junia slept great.  Today, the first day my wife is back at school, Junia refused to nap.  That is somewhat ironic timing as I post this.)

For most of her young life, Junia has been a fantastic sleeper.  She would take rather long naps and sleep all night.

When we converted her crib to a toddler bed, she had a few wild days but she soon settled down to regular sleep.  Until recently.  Nearly every night has become a battle: we put her to bed and close her door, she gets out of bed.  Sometimes she says she needs to go on the potty, so we let her try.  She is recently potty-trained and though we have encouraged her to pee before bed sometimes she really does need to go again.  Other times it is a ploy to get out of bed for a few minutes.

There are nights when she gets out of bed 1-2 times, then there are nights when after the fifth time of getting out of bed we begin to lose our minds.

She likes to sleep with a few books, stuffed animals and toys.  We told her we would take them away.  That worked for one night.  The next night she got out of bed to give us a toy and did not mind when we took them.

This is not so much a post as to what to do about kids who fight sleep (there are many posts by people with more wisdom then I have).  This is a post on punishment and consequences (dun-dun-DUN!).

The other day she would not take a nap.  She said she was tired and that she wanted to take a nap, but she kept getting up.  After putting her blanket on twice I told her I was done.  The next hour would be quiet time and if she stayed awake she was just hurting herself.  I told her I would wake her up when it was time to wake up from the nap and if she didn’t go to sleep soon she would thus get a short nap.  Then I went downstairs and ignored her, listening to her play another 30 minutes.

Eventually she went to sleep.

The whole thing made me think about the difference between punishments from the outside and self-inflicted harm.

Emily and I threatened a variety of punishments – no TV the next day, no apple juice, taking away toys, etc.  Sure she was upset when she couldn’t watch an episode of Dora the next day, but it did not seem to be a huge deterrent (plus, if she is sleeping less, limiting such things ends up punishing Emily and I more then it does Junia).

When she wouldn’t take a nap I just told her she was only hurting herself.  Without a nap, or with a very short one, she acted tired the rest of the day.  The punishment is self-inflicted, she is hurting herself.

Of course, she is probably too young to digest this lesson.  But it is a good lesson for adults.

I grew up learning that if you are bad then God will punish you; if you do not believe the right things about Jesus you will be sent to hell for all eternity.  The more I think about it though, most of our bad choices (sins) hurt ourselves.  Before we even get to any punishment from a God, we punish ourselves by engaging in self-destructive behavior.

I think I always had the impression that God commanded certain things almost arbitrarily.  So some things were good and some were bad.  Now I have come to see that God wants what is best for us, and living as a disciple of Jesus truly leads to human flourishing.  To use one example, it is more satisfying to live generously rather than greedily.  Jesus does not call us to give just to take our stuff away, we are better humans for giving.  And being greedy may lead to some sort of judgment or punishment one day, but before we even talk about that we need to realize greed will destroy us.

Maybe we could put it this way – sin self-destructs.  If you choose the path of self-fulfillment above all else you will lose yourself.  But if you choose the path of living for others, you will find satisfaction.  Reminds me of Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35 – For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Or on a toddler level – If you choose not to nap, you’re just going to be grumpy the rest of the day which won’t be fun for you or anyone around you.  The parents don’t need to even punish you, your lack of sleep and subsequent exhaustion is punishment itself.  We want what’s best for you, which is sleep.  Refusing to sleep hurts you.  Take a nap and enjoy life!

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