Parenting with Love, Consistency, and Expectations - Not Manipulation, Bargaining or Fear
So, the other night at bedtime, I totally biffed it and got caught up in the world of manipulation and calling bluffs.
It was bedtime and little girl, newly transitioned from our bed to brother's room, still needed me in the room to fall asleep. Little boy gets a bit distracted by his sister on occasion who plays stand up and flop down games and blows kisses and other things siblings do at bedtime.
So, the other night, little boy was distracted and then wasn't falling asleep. Little girl was out in minutes. I told little boy that I'd leave the room if he didn't stay in bed.
Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
For the last month I'd be back in his room while little girl transitioned to a new space. I'd cuddled in bed with him till he fell asleep and it was nice - for me and for him, but it needed to end so now I was just sitting in a chair. Little boy likes when I'm in the room and that cozy feeling is powerful stuff, and yet....when the heck did I decide to start bargaining for good behavior with my love and attention!
And of course it backfired.
Little boy said, "Leave". He's 28 months! So I did to which he immediately capitulated. And then we went through the process again. "Leave, Mommy". And then a huge wailing of misery, "Mommy, I'm crying, I'm crying!".
(Some might be saying, "Just leave him in the room!" to which I'd agree in general. First, as much as he likes me there, his distress isn't really the distress of his first year of life in which we did respond, but mainly a very vocal attempt to have some attention. But, that very loud vocal attempt wakes up little girl and little girl is LOUD and takes a long time to regroup - it's a touch of a Catch 22 and boy wields some control of the situation)
It is amazing to me how easily it is to fall into these interactions where bargaining, bluffing and threats take over, especially because I know and espouse totally different practices personally and professionally. There was me thinking up, "You need to stay in bed or else...." Except that I didn't have a good "or else" that I wanted to employ.
SO I biffed it and he took full advantage of the game till some light went on in my head (albeit slowly) which reminded me of the "super nanny technique" which is just plain old consistency and follow through about the expectations.
So, I picked him up and plopped him in bed (a gentle plop) and said it was time for bed. And he got up and I did it again. And again. And again. And then little Mr. Big Boy Sowing His Big Boy Oats got something off the shelf next to his bed without leaving his bed and sat with his back to me. And I hung out and prepared to stand up again and then he flopped over sound asleep.
We try to parent with consistent messages and clear expectations. It's not easy and it requires constant attention - not scowls or scoldings, but noticings.
There was a study done in classrooms cited by Boynton, M. & C. (2005) that showed that 95% of off-task behavior was due to one of only three things:
1. The kid thought the teacher didn't notice
2. The kid thought the teacher didn't care
3. The kid didn't care about the consequence
I think back to my own frequent off-task behavior as a student, writing notes and talking to friends and I'm stunned to realize that I really thought the teacher didn't notice me. Duh. Of course the teacher noticed me, but he chose to ignore me because I wasn't THAT distracting. Dumb. And it meant that my note-writing and whispering continued.
With my little boy at bedtime, it's the same stuff. If I ignore when he silently slides out of bed, he thinks I don't notice OR he thinks I don't really care about staying in bed. The consequence thing is rather a moot point because the consistency of plopping him back in bed (which one can do with a two-year old) speaks tremendously of our expectations and is far more inline with our parenting philosophy.
He's a good kid and the next night went like a dream. And the night after that. And then we got to nap time today. Oy Vay! It's a doozy, but I've got my mind set set and just consistently set the expectation and stayed relaxed and calm and he got the point. Eventually.
Boynton, C & Boynton, M. (2005). The Educator's Guide to Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems: ASCD.