Tears of frustration trail down her face as she cries, inconsolable, screaming in frustration over the injustice that is bedtime – an all-too-familiar scene at the end of a busy day in many households with toddlers and preschoolers – and that’s just Mom, if only a reflection of what she’s experiencing on the inside.
We’ve all been there – after a busy 16 hour day you need a little down time. But, as any parent knows, rest is a hot commodity in parenthood, especially during the early years.
It can be tempting to resort to yelling and screaming when all reasonable attempts to enforce bedtime for your weary tot fail, and it might even work at first, but only as a startle tactic.
Eventually, says Social Worker Janet Lehman in her article, “Tired of Yelling at Your Child? Stop Screaming and Start Parenting Effectively,” if you continually yell at your kids to get them to comply, they will begin to tune you out.
The bottom line, Lehman says, is that yelling at the kids doesn’t teach better problem solving skills, nor does it make the problem go away. The opposite, she says, is true. If you scream at your kids all the time, warns Lehman, they will learn to simply take it and do whatever they want anyway. And, Lehman adds, if they respond it will be in a like manner, non-productive, frustrating and exhausting for all concerned.
You can get your point across at bedtime – and in the process, the rest you so desperately need – Lehman says, by changing your communication tactics.
“You might need a bigger bag of tricks because your kids are going to push your buttons to try and get you to lose control — which is what they’re used to,” she says, “But you can learn to have control and communicate with them effectively.”
Some of the tips Lehman and other parenting experts recommend to diffuse the situation and scrap the screaming include:
When the battle over bedtime begins, walk away from it. Calmly turn and head for another room for a few moments or step away and focus on another task like shuffling a basket of laundry or glancing through the day’s mail.
Take a Time Out
This is taking “stepping away” to the next level. No chores for you on this one — put yourself in your room, the bathroom, on the deck, anywhere you won’t see reminders of items from your to-do list. (On the bed with your face burrowed into your pillow maybe?) Give yourself a few moments to regroup before heading back to the front line.
Count to Ten
In your head, not out loud. This is basically stepping away without leaving the room. Close your eyes if you must (or dare), and concentrate on the numbers as you say them to yourself.
Be proactive. Before you start the bedtime process take a “pre-game” break — a little time for yourself — even if only for five or 10 minutes.
Know Your Triggers
Your child knows what they are, so be ready with an acceptable reaction to all potential button-pushing.
Sounds a bit obvious, but give it a go. Deliberately use a tone softer than the one you use throughout the day, even when all is well with the world. If the little one isn’t listening, step away and come back. Wash, rinse and repeat for best results. Disclaimer: It might take a few nights — quite a few, perhaps.
If you are actively engaged in the bedtime process and feel the urge to scream, just pretend it’s a game of freeze tag. Stop. Wait. Count to 10 if it helps, but wait. Your child is likely to be thrown off guard by this action (or lack thereof) and will, in turn, wait to see what you’re going to do next, giving you the chance to redirect.
You can redirect at any time during the bedtime process. Any time you feel like screaming, change the topic, distract with a book or bedtime song (there is a fine line between distracting and bribing, so tread carefully here).
Acknowledge and Stand Your Ground
When all else seems to have failed, remember that you’re the boss. You don’t have to fight. You win. It IS bedtime. So your little one isn’t exactly in the bed, so what? Say, “I know you wish it wasn’t bedtime and I’m sorry you’re unhappy, but I love you and will see you in the morning. Good night.” Then, walk out. If needed, calmly repeat. If your little one keeps coming out of the room, keep walking him right back. Calmly.
We all know that rushing into bedtime to “stick to the schedule” can be disastrous. Before giving your kids a heads up that bedtime is on the near horizon, give yourself a pep talk. Plan your approach — and your escape. Build in a little time for the bumps that are sure to follow and you’ll be ready to rumble.