Mathew, age 3, is yelling at his mother. He doesn’t want to go to bed. He has been lining his trucks up making a ‘truck stop’ and he isn’t finished. His mother has already given him 10 extra minutes and now it’s past bedtime. She is pleading with him and soon resorts to threatening. “If you don’t come now, you won’t be able to use your bike tomorrow or go to Gregory’s house to play! I’m warning you!”
This is a huge, nightly power struggle between Matthew and his mother. Matthew’s reasons are different each night but the result is the same. Mom gives Matthew a heads up about bedtime approaching and Matthew begins to dig in his heels. Soon mom is reminding him that the time is getting shorter…begins to nag him about putting his toys away “NOW!” Soon Matthew is yelling, “You can’t make me!”
Matthew is no different from any other child in that he needs to test to see who is really in charge in his house. He needs to experience his mom’s unquestioned leadership in order to do his best in a situation like this. This is what it might look like:
Mom, having observed this problem developing over several nights, needs a plan. She might decide to restructure the time after dinner. First Matthew needs to get into his pajamas and brush his teeth. Then, the next 30 minutes belong to him. He can use this time however he wants, choosing to make his ‘truck stop’ or asking a parent to play something with him. At the start of this 30 minutes free time, mom sets a kitchen timer. She explains to Matthew that when the timer rings, his playtime is over and it’s time for a story in his bedroom. The story, however, depends on his cooperation with the kitchen timer.
A night or two may go by before this plan begins to work for Matthew. He might need to test out the whole idea and see if mom will let him play longer if he begs, or maybe she’ll take pity on him and still read to him even when he doesn’t cooperate with the timer.
Matthew needs to find out right away that mom won’t budge on the new plan. If Matthew doesn’t respond immediately when the timer rings, the story is cancelled for that night and his only choice is to walk himself to his room or be carried. This is unquestioned leadership – something every child needs from his or her parents in order to grow up feeling secure. Children will do best when they see a parent acting with confidence and consistency. Matthew’s mom can stay calm (but firm/friendly) because she has practiced this plan in her head. Now there will be the right balance of power between parent and child when it comes to bedtime issues.
As always, feel free to take advantage of Kitty’s expertise by booking your first conversation today and taking your first step to peaceful parenting and quieter nights.