Reading your child to sleep is nothing new. But when Swedish behavioural psychologist and linguist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin created The Rabbit who wants to fall asleep it went viral and it became the first self-published work to ever top the Amazon charts.
So how is it supposed to work? Apparently it uses positive reinforcement techniques and gentle neurolinguistic programming – repeating phrases like sleepy and yawning – to help children relax, focus and eventually drift off.
My two-year-old has lived by the motto ‘sleep is for the weak’ since he was born and even now takes more than an hour to get to bed. We tried the audio version so you don’t have to
1 minute 2 seconds: It doesn’t start well. The hushed tones of the gentle narrator and medatitive music are drowned out by screeches of ‘No bedtime, Mummy. Downstairs NOW!’ Then there’s a pause followed by a very insistent, ‘Pllllleassssse’. No sign of sleep here.
4 minutes 34 seconds: This toddler is far from ‘sleepy, very sleepy’ as the narrator describes. In fact he’s standing on my head trying to look out the window. Whispered pleas to get him to sit down are ignored. At least the shouting phase seems to have passed.
10 mins 10 seconds: He’s lying down now, this is better. He might even be listening. The only reason I’m not convinced is the loud and insistent ‘sssshing’ sound he’s making he’s with his podgy finger earnestly to his lips and big blue eyes sincerely staring into mine. I’m not even saying a word. I’m beginning to doubt this book’s magical powers.
22 minutes: While the Rabbit who wants to fall asleep has been busy meeting his slow snail friend, the toddler who doesn’t even want 40 winks has passed back through the shouting, standing and shushing cycles three times over.
Now he’s moved on to a whole new phase – screaming nonsense. I’m pretty sure some of the words are ‘no’ and ‘bedtime’ but I’m his mum and I don’t have a clue. I try some ‘s’s’ of my own – stroking, shushing and saying ‘sleepy time’ but this seems to make things work. I’m beginning to regret the £8.95 I spent on this audiobook.
32 minutes: As the calming music comes to an end and the gentle narration stops, I force my eyes open. I realise I’m still in the toddler’s bedroom and I’m not sure exactly how long I’ve been asleep but I feel more relaxed than I have for weeks. Looking over at the toddler’s cot I realise he is snoring deeply – a phase that normally takes him a lot longer than half-an-hour.
The calming tones, the gentle repetition, the linguistic programming have had an incredible effect on the non-sleeping toddler. While I know there’s science behind it, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a little bit magic. And, if I’m anything to go by, it seems to work on grown ups too.