When I tell people that we don't do time outs, or really punishment of any kind, and that our kids are really well behaved, I get the usual raised eyebrow and sceptical look. I often get comments, like it must be easy to always give into your kids.
To that I say, oh nay, nay!
I don't give in to my kids, we have reasonable boundaries and stick too them in a gentle way.
Tonight was probably the hardest night my husband and I had and we tag teamed the discipline. Here's how it went down. You tell me if it sounds easy!
The hubs is the one who usually does the bedtime routine with our 4 year old, Samantha. Tonight we were a tad late (about 20 minutes) getting her up to bed because she was finishing a movie. No biggie. She was happy and silly going up to bed, but I could tell she was way too awake to go down without a fight. The hubs is usually pretty lenient at bedtime, reads her a story, does the whole teeth brushing, pottying, blankets just right, all the right stuffed animal friends, etc. So, this went on for about another 30 minutes or so, when I hear the crying and begging for a cup of hot chocolate before bed.
We have two boundaries for bedtime. One is the time. Bedtime is 8 pm, give or take, but after 8:30 is serious, get in bed now time. We have this rule, because if she goes to bed any later than this she is a big grump in the morning. So, at 8:50 we were far past this and didn't have time for another stall tactic.
The other rule is no drinks at bedtime. Samantha is very well potty trained but if she has a drink at bedtime about 50% of the time I get a visitor with wet pants, wet sheets, etc. at about 2 am. Samantha knows these rules but hasn't gotten used to no milk at bedtime.
Tonight she was sobbing and begging for hot chocolate (our word for warm milk with ovaltine). I was so proud of the hubs who is really trying to get the hang of this alternative, new age parenting stuff. I heard things like, "I can tell you are sad that you can't have what you want and that's OK. You can cry on my shoulder for a minute." and "It's hard when you don't get what you want isn't it?" Yeah, hubby! (He told me later it was like when ur dog wakes up at 5 am and howls to go out and just keeps howling, and howling, and howling.)
But after about 10 minutes, I thought I'd relieve him and come in with a fresh set of tools. The hubs stood outside the door to listen to me work, probably thinking there was no way I could "hippie talk" my way out of this one. I tried all the tricks in the books:
1. I validated her feelings by telling her I could tell she was very sad and it's OK to cry when we are sad.
2. I reinforced what the two rules are and why we have them in terms she understands. (She tried to win me over by telling me she would only drink a little bit and all the pee pees would go in the potty. Sweet but sorry, kid.)
3. I tried to grant her wish in "dreamland". I offered her my hand shaped like a cup with magic hot chocolate that won't make her have to go pee pee. She didn't want it and kept crying.
4. I tried to engage her in conversation about what she likes about hot chocolate. I asked her how it tastes to her? What the color was? How it felt going down into her tummy? She was kind of intrigued and the crying slowed down a bit.
5. I offered a compromise. I offered to make her hot chocolate in the morning and bring it to her when she woke up. No, she wanted it now.
6. I went back to the fantasy thing and asked her if she thought she would dream about hot chocolate tonight and she said no, she was going to dream about her frog...
And right then the tears dried up! Who knew the frog was the clue all along. I asked her all kinds of questions about her frog. Turns out her magic red-eyed tree frog wears a tutu and likes to dance in her dreams. She has sticky hands and lives in a tree and eats leaves. I asked Samantha is she would send her Ballerina Dancer frog twirling into my dream so I could see her. Samantha agreed and I kissed her goodnight. She got up one more time to go potty - guess some of those pee pees did need to go into the potty after all. Then, she got right back in bed and closed her eyes tight, promising to send me dreams of her dancing frog.
So, no, it was not easy. But I was quite proud that both the hubs and I maintained our boundaries and deepened our connection with our daughter tonight. Samantha learned that we will remain firm about our rule, while still loving and "seeing" her. In times past I would have just said no and let her go to bed crying thinking she'd fall asleep eventually. But wow, who wants the last thing on their kids mind to be feelings of anger and resentment towards them? Not me!
This hippy-dippy, new age, gentle discipline stuff ain't for everyone, but man does it work for us!