Ask Amma

Enforcing Bedtime

In How on 23 August 2012 at 3:34 am

Last night was a bad one.  When it was time to go to bed, my 7-year old flat out told me no and that I couldn’t make her do anything, that she would do whatever she wanted.  She is testing her boundaries big time.  Combine that with screaming, crying, throwing things, kicking doors… horrible, horrible night.  All because yesterday I let her stay up late.  Or maybe raging pre-tween hormones!   Normally I discuss and compromise.   A friend told me to stick to my guns.  How would you instruct a child who is demonstrating zero respect for elders and breaking items in the house?

– Mom of a 7-year old in Maryland

Regarding respect for elders, I am in favour of it (as well as respect for children) and regarding breaking items (or will) I am against it. When tensions escalate it can become very difficult to handle these situations, so it helps to have a plan. “Stick to your guns” is not a constructive plan.  Your daughter’s screams and throws are not her guns.  Your job is not to outgun her with threats and punishments, but to look behind the outburst.  What is the child trying to say?  Has she in fact tried to say it in quieter, constructive ways but just not been listened to and then resorted to louder means?  Secondly, as Alfie Kohn reminds us to ask, is what we have requested reasonable?  Can we explain our reasons?  Can we listen to our children’s reasons for their requests – if we start from the premise that they are reasonable, then we are more likely to hear them.

After the screaming has begun it may be well past the time for reasons.  But if you are reading this, I take it there is no screaming going on at present, so you can use this time to think about these questions.

Regarding the specific case of staying up late, I can claim some experience in this area.  Rather than telling an alert and eager child that the lights must go out, I find it more effective to plan the day so that it is full and satisfying.  If waking up on time is becoming a problem, then I would talk about that with my child and see what suggestions she might have, while also being prepared to offer some of my own, if needed.

You say that you also normally discuss and compromise, but she is crossing the limit.  Limits can serve as a topic of conversation, exercising our ability to hear each other’s point of view.  Children (and adults) may need limits, but these limits can be set by mutual consent.  Not in the heat of the outburst, but some other, cooler, closer time.

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