What to Do When “Nighttime” becomes “Fight Time” –
Is Punishment the Answer?
By Kelly E. Nault, M.A.
When parents say, “It’s bedtime, kids!” discipline frequently follows.
If any (or all!) of the following sound familiar, know you’re not alone:
“I need another glass of water.”
“Can I stay up just 15 more minutes?”
Bedtime delays are an epidemic problem that plagues most households. If it’s not one more story, it’s “ten more minutes” of their favorite show or dawdling in the bathroom. We’ve all been there.
Bedtime + Kids + Discipline + Anger = More Problems
When your child puts up a fight at bedtime, responding with anger can often create even more problems. Your best bet is to be firm, yet loving. How?
One of the most effective methods I have found is outlined in chapter twelve of my book When You’re About To Go Off The Deep End, Don’t Take Your Kids With You. Here it is for you to read and hopefully use:
1.Tell Your Child What You Are Going To Do. Say something like, “Part of what I love to do with you is read stories at bedtime, but sometimes I feel frustrated when bedtime takes a lot longer than it needs to be. So from now on, I will be at your bedside promptly at ____PM to tuck you in. If you are not there at that time all ready to be tucked in, I will start getting ready for bed myself. If you would like a hug you can come and find me for a quick one, but I will not return to your room.”
2.Follow Through. As stated be in their room on time. Give them one five-minute warning if you feel it is necessary (although it is not). If they are not ready, leave and be prepared to keep your mouth shut at all costs, regardless of tears, angry words or pleas to be tucked in. Go into the bathroom, lock the door, and get yourself ready for bed. Give one hug if they ask, then continue with your tasks. If they try to get you involved, simply say, “I’ll be happy to speak with you in the morning. Sweet dreams.” And that is all.
Responding to difficulties in this way encourages your children to be punctual and when it comes to bedtime.
Kids’ discipline doesn’t have to be harsh to be effective, but it does need to be consistent. Going to bed without a story is a commonsense consequence that teaches children to positively change their behavior. Even a small consequence like this one is enough to encourage your son or daughter to make good time management choices the very next night.
Dealing with the Boogieman
Fears are natural, and your children will face many throughout their lifetime. The best thing you can do is to help them learn to deal with these fears, including the fears they face at bedtime.
Take time to understand your son’s or daughter’s fears, and validate their feelings—but stay firm on the need for them to stay in their own room at night.
Instead of letting them take refuge in your bedroom, help them find ways of making their own room feel safe. Each time your child comes into your bedroom, take them back to their own room and stay with them for a couple of minutes. Tell them that you have faith in their ability to handle the situation. Suggest they pray while cuddling with a special stuffed toy and turn on a night light. These commonsense solutions can help guide them to learn how to sooth themselves in future.
Instead of telling them there is no boogieman, ask them what the boogieman is like, why he is there, and what he wants. Children are incredibly imaginative, so instead of downplaying their gift use their imagination to help find them find solutions. Brainstorm with your child possible ways to make the creature happy or ways to motivate this creature to move on to a new home. Suggest writing a note to the boogieman or asking Jesus to protect them while in their bed.
Finally, when they make it through a night on their own, encourage them by asking how they managed to sooth themselves and congratulate them on their accomplishment.
Silent Night…All Is Calm
With a little bit of practice, nighttime doesn’t have to be fight time at your house. You don’t have the fear the words, “It’s bedtime, kids!” Discipline and angry words aren’t good approaches, but gentle, loving, firm patience that encourages your child to make good decisions is right on target.
Before you know it, bedtime dawdling will be gone for good!
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