Monday, February 6, 2012
Parenting Takes Energy!
A friend described nightly battles getting their 4 year old to stay in bed. They put him down at 8PM and then the fun begins. He gets up to ask for all the usual things – water, one more hug, a bathroom trip, something he forgot to tell them, more water, more hugs and on it goes.
I suggested a simple strategy – tie a ribbon on his bedroom door. If after he goes to bed, he wants something, tell him he may bring you the ribbon and you will cheerfully fulfill his request. However, if he gets up again, his bedtime will be an hour earlier the next night. Each night starts fresh with 1 ribbon on his door (even if he has the earlier bedtime).
The parents correctly pointed out that he will still likely get up over and over again. I responded yes, he probably will, but just calmly lead him back to bed each time – without fulfilling any of the additional requests. It is the early bedtime over a series of days or weeks that is going to help him choose to stay in bed in the future.
In the meantime, the parents are going to be spending some energy in repeatedly taking him back to bed. And they need to do this calmly and without yelling – which takes additional energy when you are tired after a long day. And this strategy may not get immediate results – he may improve for a bit and then try testing to see if his parents really mean it. So more getting up and leading him back to bed…… But in 2 or 3 weeks of parental consistency, bedtime problems should be a thing of the past.
The parents looked at me in exasperation and said “But I want him to mind me right now!" Realistically if what they have been doing so far isn’t working, isn’t it time to try something new? Currently they are using just as much energy meeting his requests as they will when leading him back to bed. The big difference is the first approach is likely to continue – for years! And the second can solve the problem in a few weeks.
It is important to understand that a child has free will. Parents are not going to tie him in bed, so the only way he is going to stay there is IF HE CHOOSES TO. Parents need to make the consequence big enough to help him choose the behavior they want.
Certainly when a problem behavior is long standing, it takes some time to correct it and it does take energy. So, up off the couch, to attend to your child’s misdeeds – but comfort yourself that this new leadership strategy is going to get your child’s attention – not just over bedtime issues, but all the issues that come up as a child learns to take his proper place in his family – as a disciple of parents he chooses to follow!