Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Art Of War For Parents

Here's a parenting issue I've been thinking about quite a bit lately: Choosing Battles. Everyone's heard the saying "You've got to choose your battles." It's good advice, but rarely comes with any hint of how one should choose said battles.

I don't think the parent-child relationship necessarily needs to be adversarial, but conflicts occur--well, more often than I wish. I don't start out intending to have an argument with one of my kids, but they sneak up on me, often on multiple fronts (having more than one kid). Sometimes such confrontations are inevitable, when the child is taking a battering ram to a necessary rule or limit. But many times, I find myself caught up in battles that ultimately are not worth fighting.

Here's how it typically goes down: child disagrees with or resists a limit that the parent has set for the child. Mom explains the reasons for the limit, but the kid doesn't like it, and a temper tantrum or shouting match (my son's strategy) or sneaky thwarting (my daughter's strategy) ensues. Mom and Dad must then force the limit on the child in some way (or reevaluate the need for the limit or revise it, etc.).

Force, you say? Force, I said. Leonard Peikoff, in his book The Ominous Parallels, described the two basic kinds of interactions between humans (albeit in a much different context):

There are only two fundamental methods by which men can deal with one another: by reason or by force, by intellectual persuasion or by physical coercion . . . .

Children are human beings, but their brains are in the process of growing and developing. They are not fully rational . . . not yet. But one day (we hope), they will be rational. So when attempting to get the child to do something she might otherwise not want to do, I think it's right (and worth it!) to go the Reason Route first. Why? Oh, lots of reasons. Because it might work. Because it models rational thinking for them and gets them involved in the process of rational decision-making. Because it outlines the rational reasons for whatever it is they need to do. Because it demonstrates that Mom and Dad are not arbitrary rule generators and enforcers--that they have good reasons for what they want.

However, sometimes reason will not convince. It happens from time to time. :o) And then the parent needs to decide: Do I force this issue? If so, why?

Is it ever right to force a child to do something? Sometimes, yes. By the word "force," I of course do not mean hitting the child, although occasionally physical restraint might be necessary, as in the following example. By "force," I'm talking about making the child do (or not do) something against their will.

I think most people would agree that stopping a child from running into a busy street is an appropriate use of force. Why? Because the child, not being fully rational, is endangering her life. So Mom or Dad grabs her before she darts out into traffic, simultaneously thwarting her will and preserving her life.

With less drastic situations it's really a question of determining which principles should guide a parent's decision about if and when it is appropriate to force a child to do something. (Or not do something.) In general, Brendan and I allow as much freedom as possible--in fact, we err on the side of freedom--and set our limits around individual rights--the child's rights or the rights of others.

Here are some examples of times when we've chosen to fight the good fight, with my reasons for the less obvious examples:

  • Last summer, Ryan needed a dilated eye exam. Brendan held him down against his will while the nurses put the eye drops in. (It was awful.)
  • I've forced Morgan into her carseat too many times to count.
  • [Warning to non-parents, poop story to follow.] I gave this example on another Mommy blog. When Ryan was about 2.5, he had an awful case of diarrhea with a bleeding diaper rash, too. He needed to be changed, but he was in terrible pain. We held him down and got him cleaned up while he screamed bloody murder (this was in a parking lot, too).
  • A house rule I often reinforce is Please Eat in the Kitchen. (There are many reasons for this, mostly having to do with my self-interest. It drives me crazy to find mummified string cheese in the couch, piles of crumbled up crackers in the playroom, etc. And creates more work for me. And attracts bugs. Also, there's our ever-present concern that something is mislabeled for peanut safety--if there is a reaction, I'd like to know just where to clean up possible peanut allergen contamination.)
  • Ryan has to have an Epi-pen with him if he leaves our yard.
  • If you want to wear socks, then you must go upstairs to find them on your own. I will not come with you. (Ryan and Morgan only seem to want me to go upstairs with them when I need them to do something--but will play up there contentedly for their own purposes. This is a job they need to handle themselves.)
  • Only one vitamin per day.
  • No standing on a chair and leaning over the edge of the balcony (which is very elevated).
  • Nobody is allowed to watch Star Wars - Episode III, Revenge of the Sith just yet. (It's too violent, and both Ryan and Morgan are prone to bad dreams about violent movies--although she's not the one wanting to see this movie.)

Obviously, there are varying degrees of the use of force involved here--not every one of these issues develops into a battle. But they are legitimate restrictions on what they'd like to do, either because they might be harmed, or rights are violated in some way.

Here are examples of times when I've chosen not to have a fight, or backed out of a fight already engaged:

  • A child wants to wear shorts outside on a 40 degree day (or colder).
  • The Big Dig in the backyard. (I care less about a big hole in the yard than I do about allowing the kids freedom to dig and explore.)
  • As I write this, the wood rail of our balcony is painted rainbow colors. I think it's pretty, even though it's not up to the guidelines of our homeowner's association.
  • Eat whenever you're hungry and whatever you like, with a few restrictions. (No cocktails, etc.).
  • Wearing a bike helmet, at least while they're not involved in daredevil stunts. (Yes, I know it's against the law.)
  • Climbing something from which a fall might result in a minor (or even moderate) injury. If I think they will get really hurt, I'll offer some advice information based on experience. I do draw the line before a broken bone, partly because I think I might faint or something if when that happens.
  • Spending their own money.

Much of these issues revolve around optional values. I don't particularly care about the hole in the backyard, but I know that others might strongly prefer a nice grassy area to a concave bald patch. I'm bothered by food all over the house, but I know others are not.

Obviously, every limit I enforce does not involve a knock-down-drag-out battle. (Even though there are times when it feels that way.) Here are some Positive Discipline techniques I try to keep in mind as I handle conflicts with my kids. (Actually, some of these ideas--especially the first--may not have come straight from a PD book or resource, but they are in line with PD.)

Always give a rational reason.

I don't use the "Because I Said So" phrase. If I can't find a good reason for getting the child to do something, then really, why am I asking him to do it? And if I do have a good reason, then why wouldn't I tell him what it is?

Sometimes, there isn't time to explain all of the whys and wherefores--riding one's bike into traffic, for example. So I would stop the dangerous situation first--and then give my reasons.

Stop thinking about it as a Battle.

Yes, I'm using battle analogies all over the place here, but really, I handle confrontations best when I'm focused on solving a problem versus winning an argument. Now, of course the child will want to "win" the argument, but I do my best to point out how we solved the problem together or at least remind him about the reasons.

When I've had to use physical force--such as making someone sit strapped in a carseat--I don't gloat. (I've seen parents do this!) I didn't "win," but rather I behaved as a rational parent ought to. I did my job. Also, I empathize with the child's feelings. No one likes being forced to do something, not even little children. So I say "I know you are feeling mad that I'm making you sit in your carseat. It's okay to be mad about this." And then maybe reiterate the reason. Or maybe just drop it.

Make the Hard and Fast Rules as few and infrequent as possible.

Or, as I mentioned above, Err on the side of freedom. Really, there are only a few things that I will physically force them to do. I'll make them sit in their carseats. I'll stop people from hurting each other. I'll make people attend each other's practices and activities.

Basically, I will stop them from risking irreparable damage to their own lives, limbs, or property, and those of others. In the example of making someone attend another's ballet or chess practice, that is mostly a function of logistics at this point. When any child is old enough to be left alone here, he'll have that choice. If he wanted to stay at a friend's house and it was okay with his friend's mom, then that would be fine with me. Unfortunately, our schedules and those of our friends don't match up too well. And I can't just leave him alone at home (which falls under the risk to life and limb category, I guess. Certainly, property is at risk). Therefore, he's gotta go with.

Find ways to say YES.

A qualified Yes is easier to handle than an outright No.

  • Yes, you can climb that wall--over on this side, where the drop isn't quite so large.
  • Yes, you can paint--outside.
  • Yes, you can wrestle around with your friends--as long as it's okay with them.
  • Yes, you can have another vitamin--tomorrow.

Change your mind.

This is a corollary of the Don't Think of it as a Battle guideline. If this is something not worth arguing about, then why keep arguing? I often ask myself in mid-confrontation:

  • Why is this important to me?
  • Is someone or something going to be hurt? If so, how much?
  • Are someone's rights being violated? Really?
  • Is this annoyance I feel justified? If so, why? If not, can I live with the results of saying yes?

It's surprising to me how often I find that it's not worth my time or energy to fight over something. Something my dad said to me over the phone a few days ago reminded me of a particular battle they chose to fight with me. I hated wearing dresses; it was an ongoing struggle because it was obviously important enough to them that I wore dresses frequently since it became a War of Epic Proportions. And it still bothers them, apparently. Why? I just can't imagine.

Many times I'll be involved in a conflict, ask myself those questions above, and realize that the only reason I'm trying to enforce a limit is because it was something enforced upon me. That's not a good enough reason. So I'll say, "You know what? I guess I really don't care if you wear shorts outside today. If you decide you're cold, come in and change into jeans."

This requires quite a bit of introspection for the parent. Understanding my personality, my principles, my values, and some context of what happened when I was a child is invaluable.

Extricate yourself from pointless confrontations.

First, make sure you're not the one unnecessarily dragging things on. :o) Sometimes the child prolongs the confrontation beyond the point of all tolerance. I find that saying, "I know you're upset, but I'm all done talking about this now" very useful.

Say "Hmmmmm." Sometimes a kid needs to vent a bit. A well-timed "Hmmmmm...." allows you to acknowledge them while not engaging in the battle. (It also works for when they say something hilarious and you ought to respond but are afraid you might laugh.)

Show them the light at the end of the tunnel.

If there's something that needs doing that's not super fun, like picking up toys, show them the advantage of doing so. I did that last night with Ryan. He was upset because he was the only picking up (the rest of us were engaged in other legitimate things, like nursing babies). I reminded him that the quicker he cleaned up, the more time he'd have to play his computer game. I always phrase such things in terms of the child's rational self-interest.

I'm sure there are more tactics--and I'd love to hear some that you use!

Sun Tzu said something along the lines of "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." A really smart general will win the battle before it's engaged, by showing the enemy the futility of fighting, disengage from a battle not worth fighting, or possibly make an adversary into an ally.

Of course, I don't view my kids as "the enemy." (They may very well think of Brendan and me as the enemy sometimes!) But there is an apt analogy, I think. Maybe the supreme art of parenting is to guide the child without unnecessary fighting, disengaging from the ensuing battle not worth fighting, and turning them from adversaries into allies. I think many PD strategies are well-suited to this idea. Having identified principles and values helps, too.


Kelly Elmore said...

I'm not sure that the example of the kids having to get their own socks from upstairs is a good example of force. You aren't forcing them to do anything, just refusing to do something yourself, right?

David and I established our rule before we had Livy. We use force when there is likely to be irreparable harm to life, limb, or mental health or to prevent a violation of other peoples' rights.

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what is irreparable. Is a broken arm too much? For us, not necessarily, though it depends on how high the chances of a break are. Can Livy refuse medicine? If there would be no serious medical consequences, yes. And if it wouldn't violate my right to have sleep when possible. If taking the cough medicine will mean that I will not be up all night with her, she must take it.

I think family property is hard. Can they destroy their own stuff? Yes, as long as they do not expect me to replace it. Can they destroy my stuff? No. What about activities that might hurt _our_ stuff, but might not? That's a hard one to work out.

I'd love to hear what kinds of other borderline things parents decide are worth the use of force.


Rational Jenn said...

True, that might not be the best example of force--but it is an example of a limit that I'm not willing to change under normal circumstances. I suppose it's a limit on my actions, not theirs, so that might be mixing up examples a bit.

I'm with you on the medicine thing and I'll think more about the joint property stuff, too.

Yes, more examples are good!

Rational Jenn said...

I've thought about it a bit more and I do think it's a good example, and here's why--because I have to do this with Ryan frequently. I have to nudge him to handle things independently. There are probably better examples--getting his own plate or when he was younger, getting dressed and undressed maybe.

You, I think, have probably NEVER had to do such a thing with your child. :o)

I mean, I know you've had to tell her your limits about what you will do, and hold to them, but you've never had to nudge her toward independence. I'll think on it some more and see if I can think of a better example--or maybe you have one?

Kelly Elmore said...

I still think that nudging a child to independence by refusing your help is not an example of using force. It's a tough parenting call to make, for sure, but withdrawing your help is not the same as forcing a child to do something.

I have at times forced Livy to get dressed. I cannot leave the house with a naked 5 year old in our culture (stupid), and I cannot leave her alone at home, so she must get dressed. Irreparable harm follows if she stays at home or if CPS comes knocking at my door.

Kelly Elmore said...

Here's a thought about this topic:

Making a child unhappy is not always an act of force. You not helping Ryan put his shoes on makes him very unhappy, but it isn't force. Me continuing to play the piano when Livy is screaming bloody murder (she hates it when I play, and I'm not _that_ bad) makes her unhappy but it isn't force.

I do think it is very hard to decide where you are going to do things that make your children unhappy. I choose to go to a child who wakes up in the night. She is frightened, and I want to be with her. I choose not to stay in the room every second she is in the bath (she is safe in the water, just lonely). I get sick of that, and she can just hurry and get out!

I weigh my own values against the values of the child, and someones I decide that I want to do what she wants and sometimes I don't. But none of that is force.

Here are some things I force (or have in the past): car seat, leaving a place, leaving the house, preventing hitting or grabbing, tooth brushing (and we are pretty damn loose about this, but they must be brushed sometimes!), medicine, going to the potty when I know she is about the wet her pants in a store. I'm sure there are many more, but that's a decent list.

Rational Jenn said...

Agreed--but isn't making them unhappy when a limit is set a type of battle to choose? It's okay to choose that battle, and making them sad is sometimes necessary, unfortunately.

I think I should have defined force and limits a bit differently. (Arg...this post was so hard to write.) I was talking about force specifically in the preceeding paragraph, but should maybe talk about different kinds of limits?

There is a difference in degree between forcing someone to take medicine through physical means and refusing to budge on a limit you set, but battles can occur in both situations. So Mom must decide--is this really worth it? Or find a different way to encourage the child to take (or not) the desired course of action. Or physically force. Etc.

Hmmm....thoughts? I'm involved in a couple of battles right now, so I must go. Thanks for your comments as always.

Amy said...

My battle for the day was not carrying my 2.5 year old into day care. She has been super-clingy lately and frankly, I'm tired of it. She gets like this after she is sick and the solution is always to be really tough about not responding to whining and screaming, to never go in her room at night, and to do as little as possible for her, until she is back to her usual self.

So today I decided she was going to walk in to school on her own which she's done before, but she would not do it today. It became a battle and I felt I had to stick to my guns because I had told her beforehand that I would not carry her. I had just gotten to the point where I told her, "If you don't walk in on your own, I'm going to have to grab your hand and pull you along and I don't want to do that." A day care worker swooped in and saved the day at that point, but that was just luck.

So a totally non-life/rights threatening issue became one where I might have used force in the name of sticking to my word, which I do feel is important.

I see parents dragging their kids around by the hand all the time, but this would have been the first time I had done it. (Although of course I've picked her up and carried her against her will many many times). I'm glad it didn't come to that. But I don't know what I did wrong.

Anonymous said...

What about bed time? Do you let your kids go to bed whenever they want, or do you at least occasionally enforce a bedtime?

My son is 2, and doesn't seem capable of understanding that if he doesn't go to sleep until midnight he'll be miserable the next day.

When the consequences of an action are far removed from the action itself, I think it's my responsibility to make the best choice for my son (at his current age).

Rational Jenn said...

Amy, I've been in similar situations, that's for sure. Sometimes it is important to make sure they know you're going to follow through on stuff. The trick for me is making sure that it's something important--sometimes I get caught up in wanting to Win the Battle. (Not saying that's what you were doing, of course.)

Anon--thanks for stopping by! My kids do have bedtimes. Well, it's kind of a bed-time-frame.

We're in complete agreement--kids don't always understand the long term consequences of their actions, what with the not understanding the whole Time Concept.

I can't stand it when they are crabby from lack of sleep, and we talk about the ramifications of not enough sleep when it comes up.

Now, sometimes you are simply not sleepy when it's bedtime--for my 6 year old, this seems to be the case sometimes. But my husband and I like our alone time in the evening, too (well, as alone as we can be with the baby, who is up an awful lot). So our attitude is: "You don't have to sleep if you're not tired, but you need to stay in your room (potty breaks excepted)." We tell him that we need our adult-time, and also explain that his body needs rest, more rest than we do because he is growing.

I would certainly encourage a regular bedtime for all kids, especially the younger they are.

Kevin said...

I've found the biggest battles come on the things that don't have consequences I am willing to allow. Things like you have to eat food won't turn into big battles, because, they'll get hungry and eat at the next meal.

The ones that don't have obvious consequences are, mentioned several times, bed time. Now of course the consequences are obvious to me. But bed time is a process with us with a series of steps, all basically fun and relaxing. Books, story, maybe a timed iPhone session, songs. And that's it. The routine helps quite a bit, but sometimes the battle rage appears. And it becomes easy at that point. I can just say, if you are not going to cooperate/sit quietly, I'm not going to read this book or tell this story.

It's worse when she decides to wake up and scream because she's lonely or wants her covers fixed. The hard part is the crying. They usually get one chance at that, and they are informed it was their last one. Next time, as sad as it is for them and as excruciating as it is for me they may need to cry for me for a bit before deciding to retire on their own. Of course no dogmatic rules here, sick, overtired, or some misplaced special friend all are subject to individual case review. But if I get the hint that they are just using it as a device to not sleep for not sleeping sake, the leniency gets shut down fast. I need to sleep to function, and so do they.

Kelly Elmore said...

We don't have a set bedtime. Livy has always been a night owl, and I am definitely not. So she is often up a good bit past me at night. When she was tiny, of course, she needed to nurse to sleep, but after that (around age three), she just plays in her room pretty quietly until she is tired. Then she goes to bed. She does get up really late, so I guess this might not be an option for kids who go to school.

I've never let her cry alone in her room. When she was younger, she really seemed to need me. Nighttime seemed to me to be a tough and lonely time for her. Children really want to sleep with someone (who doesn't really?), and since I didn't want to sleep with her, I tried to be present for her when she needed me. So, I always went to her (and sometimes still do), and she has become much more nighttime independent as she has aged.

For me, things like sleep do not become my business until there is a problem. Go to sleep when you want, get up when you want, but when you are unable to function during the day, we are gonna have to talk.

And Amy, why not carry her in? She won't always want you to do that. But it seems pretty important to her right now. Were you in a super hurry, or were you just following through because you said it? I sometimes set a limit and then realize it was something that was really important to Livy or not that important to me, and I say, "I can see this is super important to you. I changed my mind." Keeping your word when you have decided it wasn't a necessary limit seems kind of authoritarian. Like, I am the parent, and I am always right, even when I am not.

Kevin said...

Kelly, that is a good point. If they are playing quietly that is not a problem at all, completely self correcting. If the older one needs to get to school in the morning and the younger one in the next room is yelling keeping her awake, this can be an issue. The more structure required the next day the more a strict bed-time is required.

The other thing that always comes to my mind is when I can communicate the reasons in terms they can understand I've found they almost always comply. Almost always the battles are over a misunderstanding. Even when it seems the principle is clear, the child may not have realized that it is not just the street in front of the house I can not run into, but all streets.

It is actually amazing when you reformulate the reasons in such a way that they understand completely, they'll turn from being completely uncooperative, to the next time the situation comes up offering to take the action without being asked, or with only a gentle nudge.

I actually get enjoyment when they will fight back on senseless rules, that's a skill I'd like them to cultivate as it will come in quite handy as an adult. I find somedays in my work I'm rejecting and battling or working around the senseless twice an hour.

And as Jenn said, it forces me to evaluate and ground my rules in reality. However, woe be to the child whose wishes run contrary to rules of which I am certain. Their whim will be frustrated at every turn as if they were trying to demand of nature that water run uphill.

Kelly Elmore said...

I think that is a wonderful attitude, Kevin, and one I try hard to cultivate. This is kind of an overdramatic example, but I thought of it often when Livy was 2 and 3. Every time she said "NO!" I pictured her in the back seat of a car with a boy who was trying to get her to do things she didn't want to do. Then I felt good about her ability to express her independence, even when I had to set the limit.

Rational Jenn said...

Interesting bedtime discussion. Particularly after the night we had here last night.

With Ryan, the primary reason we say "Okay, time for bed." is because this kid wakes up at the same time every day, regardless of when he went to sleep. He could fall asleep at 8pm, midnight, or 4am--and he'd be up at 7:30am. He's a funny guy like that. Since his body seems to be so regulated (since birth, too), I think a push toward bed at an hour that will give him an adequate amount if sleep is very much in order. He is beginning to do this on his own, finally.

Morgan never has a problem sleeping in when she's been up late--and she will tell us she's tired and ready for bed, too. But for some reason, this has been more difficult for Ryan to learn. Of course, Morgan was the one up screaming half the night last night (Sean was up screaming the other half), so she presents us with different nighttime challenges. :o)

Incidentally, having Ryan stay in his room at night even though he's not tired has a dual purpose. Brendan and I do get our alone time and Ryan is learning how to recognize when his body is tired--he'll play in his room or sometimes watch a movie until he's tired. This is a valuable thing to know--my body is tired and this is what it feels like and now it's time to lie down and sleep.

And if our kids went to school, things would be different around here re: bedtime, I'm sure. My kids have morning activities (in fact, gotta go soon), but they don't start until a more reasonable hour. The little boy next door catches the bus at 6:50am! Yikes! If we were on that plan, I suspect we'd have more a more strictly adhered-to bedtime.

Amy said...

I can't imagine not having a set bedtime for my daughter, but she's only 2.5. She goes to bed so that I can have time alone or with my husband.

I never had a bedtime growing up which was great - I stayed up all night reading. But I was always tired and late and never developed good sleeping habits. But my husband never had a bedtime as a kid and he can sleep or not at will, basically. However, he is a night owl and really can't work in the mornings at all.

I think my problem with carrying my daughter in to day care yesterday was a case of being so sick and tired that I could not think, and when that happens, I become stubborn. I think if I had been in my right mind, I might have done exactly as Kelly suggested. I've certainly backed down from a potential battle by saying "I changed my mind" in the past, and that's a great time to do it - when you realize that you started something you don't want to finish. That's called a mistake, and you can explain that to kids.

Kelly Elmore said...


I totally understand messing up when you have your own issues. My worst is when I haven't had any sleep. I can be so mean and awful, and I have a hard time setting limits without being a real bitch. We all have our different struggles, and I am just glad that I am improving. I also think that it's good that I apologize to Livy when I know I have been in the wrong. Even when I mess up, at least she gets that (which I never got from my parents at all).

As far as sleeping habits, I think a lot of them are just programmed into our bodies. Some people need more sleep, some like mornings, some like late nights. As long as our children learn their own sleep needs, they can choose careers and activities that meet them.

Kelly Elmore said...

Oh, and Jenn, what you describe for Ryan is not what I would call a bedtime. More like a quiet hour get out of my hair time. :) Livy definitely has those. "I'm done for the day, so you need to entertain yourself quietly until you are ready to go to bed."

Rational Jenn said...

Amy, just wanted to say I've so BTDT! It is so hard for me to be the kind of parent I'd like to be when I'm not in my right mind, as you said (might have to use that phrase!)

Apologies are in order, and it's a small consolation to me that at least my kids get that--we never did growing up.

Kelly--I like that--Quiet Hour/Get Out of my Hair Time. Gonna use that one, too (well, at least in my head).

Rational Jenn said...

Kelly--regarding the earlier comments, here's an analogy I came up with today. Let me know what you think.

Sometimes as a Mom I have to be like the Unstoppable Force--the one who must force the kid to do something against his will. (With rational parameters around when to do this, of course.)

Other times, when I'm setting a limit on something I will or will not do, I'm more like the Immovable Object. I'm not forcing the kid, but rather, choosing not to budge about something.

Both kinds of scenarios might involve in Battles, and I think both require rational parameters and reevaluation of whether the Battle is worth fighting.

The not going upstairs is me as the IO; the forcing into a carseat is the UF.

Two sides of the same coin? Maybe? Think I'm getting closer anyway, and I definitely mixed up the examples I used.

Kelly Elmore said...


I agree with the distinction you've made. I think one super important thing for parents to contemplate about these two states is the consequence of doing it at inappropriate times or too often. Using force too often or unfairly leads to children who aren't independent and who feel resentment. Refusing to do things to help too much or with cruel intentions leads to children who don't feel loved and cared for. Both things are absolutely necessary, but should be used incredibly sparingly.

Rational Jenn said...

Using force too often or unfairly leads to children who aren't independent and who feel resentment. Refusing to do things to help too much or with cruel intentions leads to children who don't feel loved and cared for. Both things are absolutely necessary, but should be used incredibly sparingly.

VERY nicely put. Couldn't agree more.

C. August said...

Lots of good ideas here, but I thought I'd chime in about bedtimes.

We have two kids - 5 and 3 - and they have always had a set bedtime (i.e. the time we head upstairs) of roughly 7pm. And they always naturally get up between 6:30 and 7am without having to be awakened.

They don't fight us and it has never been an issue. We read books all together in one of the kid's rooms for about 5 mins, and then we split off in parent/child pairs to each of their rooms, alternating the pairing every night. This book session could be 10 mins if the kid is tired, or 40+ mins if the older one is really into Harry Potter. But they are generally both in bed by 7:45.

Is this force because they may claim at first not to be tired? (when we know they really are) They don't fight, it's never a battle, they don't scream for us until 9pm... it's just the way life works in our house.

It's a great value to us as parents because we have grown-up time. And the kids thrive in the structure.

Rational Jenn said...

Hi C. What you described is very similar to how we do bedtime here. Brendan takes M up around 8 and reads to her, gets her settled, etc. I stay with Ryan (and baby who is usually topping off for the night) until about 8:30 and we read or sometimes he plays a computer game.

It's only lately that Ryan has begun balking about bedtime, coming downstairs a bunch of times, drinks of water, etc. I think he's just exploring the boundaries about this. And he is old enough to understand (even if he doesn't like) our explanation about needing adult time and him needing to rest. He's usually fast asleep about 5 minutes after he goes back to his room for that final time--and more recently, he hasn't even come downstairs.

I think I'd prefer to term such a bedtime routine parental guidance rather than force, since there's not usually a "battle." When Ryan has pushed the limit, we have set the rule about staying in his room and enforced that by walking him back up to his room--I think that action would be more in the "force" realm. I don't know--might have to think on it a bit more.

Incidentally, the limit is "stay in your room" rather than "go to sleep" for a reason. I can't actually make him fall asleep. Well, if I were going to drug him or something I suppose I could, but I'm not going to do that for many reasons!

But I CAN enforce him staying in his room--even if I stayed in there with him, I can make sure he's near his bed. I don't know exactly what I might do if this ever becomes a real battle, but I know I've set an enforceable limit by making it "stay in your room." Depending on the context, I'm not sure how far I'd go or if I'd change my mind about the limit. I imagine it will change as he gets older--not sure I can set the same limit for a 16 year old, for example--but then I suppose the issue will be getting him to come OUT of his room at that age!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the discussion, I'm just catching up on it. Just two days ago, my son learned how to open doors by himself, so bedtime went somewhat worse than usual.

I never have enforced "go to sleep" so much as "stay in your room" (the former being impractical among other things), though with the lights being out and my son not yet turning on/off lights I'm not sure there's much difference.

I guess I've never really thought about it in terms of the direct value of having the alone time at night. With that in mind I think I'll be more confident that I'm doing the right thing.

christinemm said...

Jenn, great post.

I didn't read all the comments.

Wanted to add one year on Halloween I gave up on the limiting candy eating. My younger was 7 years old. I said, "If you choose to eat more you may feel sick." He said okay. While in the other room with the kids playing he ate candy. Lots of candy. On the way home, walking short way, he said his stomach hurt due to eating a lot of candy. I said, "I told you so". When he got home he puked. Lesson learned.

It is true in many ways that change over time the kids are not able to make right decisions for themselves due to lack of knowledge or thinking they are immune to the stated dangers. Parents know best. So if "coercion" as some call it must be used, then so be it, for their health and safety especially.