Stand back, this article is highly dangerous, in fact I think it's gonna blow
We moved into our current house some years ago when kids were on the cards, but not yet cooking. Of all the things we discovered – doorbell wire used for mains electricity, a chimney that piped smoke into an upstairs bedroom – the one that most perplexed us was a lock on the outside of a bedroom door. It was crudely chiselled into the door frame, five feet from the ground, and looked like the work of a cack-handed desperado. What kind of b***ard would lock kids in their room?
Skip forward a few years, and you find us at our friends’ house. It’s nearly 11pm on a Friday night, and we’re staying over. Our firstborn – about two and a half at the time – is beyond exhausted, and by this time, so are we. Our friends’ children have been taken out of the shared bedroom to sleep elsewhere. After several trips downstairs and extended cuddles, our daughter now wails like a banshee at the top step, and by the time we’ve returned upstairs she’s apoplectic.
If she’d only stay in the bedroom, she’d be asleep in no time. However, this is a newbuild house, and the bedroom doors have easy-open, low handles. And so we take turns to sit on the floor outside the bedroom door, holding the handle in the closed position while murmuring reassurances that we may or may not have heard on Supernanny. Sure enough, exhaustion wins, and she eventually retreats to her blow-up Peppa Pig bed, and is soon snoring like Daddy Pig.
In the morning, though, she hates us for it. No, sorry, my mistake – when we reminded her about it, she readily agreed she’d been a bit naughty, and that next time she should stay in bed. And while that was worth about as much as the Allies’ reassurances to Poland in 1939, it did at least serve as a marker for what good sleeping should look like.
[I can already hear the rumble of angry trolls looking to tie me to a digital stake, but I’ll push on.]
What should we do? Let’s ask some strangers
And so we were reminded of that lock on the bedroom door back home. Could we ever use it? Our doors don’t open so easily, but they’re hardly child-proof. It’s just a poxy lock: why was the idea of using it so uncomfortable? We weren’t alone in our discomfort. The net in general is always good for the opinions of dim and mentally unstable – check out Yahoo answers on the subject. More recently the former editor of Loaded magazine wrote at length about his experience. In truth he doesn’t do much to endear himself to his readers – he writes for the Daily Mail for a start, he’s vain and boring according to his wife, and he blackmailed her into the plan to fit a lock. Charming, although no doubt part of the required schtick for the readership.
To save you the guilt of having the Daily Mail in your browser history, they then used the lock for 5 months, although their son realised the game was up after the first couple of nights and became broadly compliant. Our man on the landing also mentions that he expects to be vilified for his actions, and lo! So it came to pass. Not so much on the article itself, which brought out the Mail’s “never-did-me-any-harm-it’s-PC-gone-mad brigade” in force. But elsewhere…phew. Try How to get away with child abuse for starters.
Our experience has superficial similarities with the aforementioned Chubb fan – a child that wouldn’t stay in bed, exhausted parents drained of their zest for life, and a “can’t go on like this” moment, which in my case was excruciating back pain after I picked up our daughter to take her back to bed for the umpteenth time.
But there were big differences, too: her behaviour was mild by comparison, and on some nights she’d return quite happily and settle herself, or not wake at all.
Hold tight: here comes the answer
So did we use the lock? Is that the Dadhack, the magic bullet that will solve similar problems? Nah, life’s not that simple, is it? In our case she responded well over the following year to a series of escalating steps that culminate, on rare occasion, with a firmly closed door, which stays closed for a few minutes until she’s back in bed and ready to settle (and then opened for the additional ambient light she likes). And when she opened the door, as she did once or twice? Firm voices did the trick.
Our second daughter is now of a similar age, and shares a room with her sister. She occasionally pads her way downstairs or into our room, but she’s easily persuaded back, and we’ve never been tempted to give the lock a little tickle. Different genes? Sharing a room? More relaxed parents? As always, there’s no way of knowing.
But as is often the way, I’ve found that through instinct we’ve been following tactics that at least some professionals would endorse (though I imagine that would equally go for child trepanning, or a Frubes-only diet). Read about it, think about it, and by all means reject it in favour of another approach, as long as that works for you and your child. You’ll have your own views on what constitutes ‘unacceptable behaviour’ in both child and parent (as does the law). I’d be as bad as the rest of them if I insisted that where I draw the line, you should too.
Back to that lock, however, because it has proved unexpectedly useful. It’s a visual reminder to us of a thought process, a conversation and a joint agreement about our approach.
As for our daughter? she doesn’t even know it’s there.
What’s your view? And what’s your evidence? It’s a contentious matter, but as long as you’re aiming higher than the debate at the Daily Mail, I’d welcome your opinions.