Calm/Assertive Procedures like this one give kids two choices and two choices only. Kids can either:
- Be cooperative
- Suffer the consequences of not being cooperative
Either way, we can be calm and empathetic because we do not allow this third option to exist:
- Do whatever you want, develop bad behaviors, and become a person people don’t want to be around
The possibility of allowing choice C is what makes us angry, excitable, and sometimes irate because we love our kids and we know where kids who get to use choice C often end up.
Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedures like this one take into account all possible ways that kids will try to get to choice C. We stop those channels to C and reroute back to either choice A or B. We do this all without ever trying to control that which we cannot control.
Here We Go…
Is there anything that makes us feel less powerful as parents than trying to make a kid, especially a small kid, go to sleep? There are two essential misunderstandings that parents have regarding their kids going to bed.
- Parents can force their kid(s) to go to sleep.
- It is the job of the parent to make sure their kid gets enough sleep.
If we take a break and think about it for a second, we will realize that we cannot make our kids go to sleep unless we hit them in the head with a brick. Don’t do that. I once worked with a parent who, before I started working with him, was literally pushing his 4 year old down onto the bed with both hands and yelling “SLEEP!” at him. I’m serious, that really happened. It is amazing what smart people will do when they are out of ideas. When you find yourself trying to do something that is impossible, you should stop trying.
A kid getting enough sleep is the job of the kid, not the parent. When we do everything right, we don’t give the kid the false impression that him having enough rest is the parents’ responsibility. Kids won’t take responsibility for things over which they don’t feel responsibility.
What Not to Do
Do not lecture your kid about the value of sleeping, how tired they will be, what time you have to get to work tomorrow, the value of your sleep, or the article in Parenting magazine that you read about sleep and its effects on the brain.
Do not hope that your kid goes to bed.
What to Do: Setting the Limit
At a time of your choosing, when things are going smoothly, apologize to your kid. Tell her that you are sorry for trying to force her to go to sleep and let her know that you will no longer be doing so. Let her know that, just as long as she is in her room not making any noise that can be heard by anyone else in the house, she can stay up as long as she wants. No screens should be available during this time (no screens should ever be allowed in bedrooms). If you choose to use the optional intervention, set the limit about when “Lights Out” shall take place.
What to Do: The Intervention (optional)
You can set up an additional “Lights Out” Policy. Let your kid know that there will be a specific time when she will have to turn off the lights in her room. This time can occur concurrently with the time that your kid is required to be in his room or any time after. The kid does not have to go to sleep at this time (she never has to go to sleep and you don’t want her to), butshe is required to turn off the lights at the predetermined time. Make sure that your child has a clock that she can read (analog or digital). For younger kids, a timer like this one would be useful.
If (when) your child does not turn off the light by the predetermined time, walk in the room with a thick washcloth. Simply say, “Oh, dear,” mimicking the sound of a doorbell (“Oh” = high tone, “Dear” = low tone). Use the washcloth to remove the hot lightbulb. Say, “You can have this back as soon as I notice that you can use things responsibly.” Say nothing else. Leave, closing the door behind you and taking the lightbulb. Do not give the lightbulb back until you have noticed your kid attaining a new level of responsibility. Do not speak about this, except to say, “I notice you being responsible” when you see your kid being responsible. If she asks if she can get her lightbulb back, simply say, “No, but you’re getting closer!” and nothing else. When you feel that she has grown in her level of responsibility, congratulate her and replace the lightbulb.
What to Do: The Consequence
Remember that a consequence must be logically connected to the infraction so that the kid can actually learn how to replace her negative behaviors with positive ones. Kids going from exhibiting negative behaviors to exhibiting positive behaviors is a learning process, not a process through which we scare kids, or inflict pain upon them.
So then, how do kids learn not to stay up all night and get to bed at a reasonable hour?
Now that we have cleaned up all of the lectures and useless talking, the consequence for staying up too late can happen by the parent doing NOTHING. That’s right. All the parent has to do is get out of the way and let the universe and its laws do the teaching. What is the natural consequence of not getting enough sleep? The consequence is that you will be miserable the next day. All the parent has to do the next day is make sure that the kid is still responsible for everything that is required of her.
- Waking up at the normal time. Removal of all blankets from the bed, loud playing of Anthrax music (remember Anthrax?) all done with empathy and a smile, are all perfectly acceptable ways to set the limit that it is, indeed, time to get up.
- Being responsible for all schoolwork, chores, etcetera. Hold kids accountable for these responsibilities by using “Nows” and “Laters.”
Using this Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedure (CAPP) will allow you to set the limit once and get the behaviors you want.
Notes on How to Get Your Kid to Go to Bed
- If the kid makes sounds that you can hear while she is in her room: Go into her room and say that those sounds are making you very sad, and that you will be helping her to learn to be quiet later. If loud sounds continue and cannot be ignored, go somewhere else in the house to sleep. Don’t worry, this should be the only time you have to do this.
The next day, let your kid know that is very important for all people living in your house to be experts at being quiet in their rooms when necessary. Ask her if she needs to practice being quiet in her room for 3 hours or 2 hours. If she chooses anything other than one of the two choices, choose 3 hours for her. These time choices would be appropriate for a 13-year-old. Make the choices appropriate for the age of your kid.
Your kid simply needs to be in her room without making noise for the predetermined amount of time. If you hear noise from the room, calmly let your kid know that the noise she made reset the time.
- If the kid doesn’t come down for breakfast: If your kid ends up at school tired, hungry, and half naked, she is likely to realize that her irresponsibility isn’t working out for her, and she is likely to become more responsible. Use this procedure.