It’s time for my daughter to go to bed.
It’s late. I’m tired. She’s tired. But of course, she’s also not completely on board with the “going to bed” plan.
As a 3-year-old, she has definitely become more independent.
Things she used to do without a second thought are now battles. She pushes each and every boundary.
Which leaves me feeling powerless.
I wonder if you can relate?
Many parents are on board with respectful parenting in theory, until they are faced with a “non-negotiable” situation.
These are usually topics parents deem important: Going to bed, eating a veggie, wearing a winter jacket.
It’s not that these things are bad, or that parents shouldn’t have expectations for their children. The problems come because parents see only two options: give in to your child’s demands or give a punishment until your child bends to your will.
Here’s the thing most parents miss…
You can set a boundary AND your child can challenge it.
You don’t have to dig in your heels or give up your position.
But, you do need to take a big deep breath…maybe three…as you go through this process.
How to respond
- Notice your trigger: Feeling powerless, worn out, rushed, pressured, unsure, frustrated or annoyed all impact how you respond to your child. Taking a second to pause will help you identify these thoughts and feelings. This may be a difficult step at first, but the more often you do it, and the more aware you are, the easier it will be for you to realize what you are bringing to the conflict. Learn more about understanding and managing your own triggers.
- Empathy is essential: Your child is expressing an opinion (sometimes with tears or screams instead of words), it may be different from yours, but that doesn’t make it less important. Validate their experience, see the situation from your child’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes. Your child wants to know that you understand, even if you do not agree.
- Stay strong through the storm: It can take time to move from a big feeling back to calm. It’s OK if your child doesn’t immediately settle down. Don’t panic! Refrain from rationalizing, reasoning or lecturing. Instead, continue to stay in control of your own actions and thoughts. Your child needs to know that you can handle their big feelings. Provide support, go back to empathy, take some deep breaths, sit on the floor quietly, rub your child’s back, or remind them that they will get back to calm again. Learn what to do if your child does not calm down.
- Offer comfort, not consequences: It’s tempting to up the ante when your child’s behavior doesn’t change quickly or when they don’t bend to your will. Your child’s behavior is a sign that they are feeling overwhelmed and don’t have the resources to manage their big feelings. You don’t have to give a punishment or change your mind, but you may need to wait while your child processes and accepts this boundary. Learn more about using connection as a response to big feelings.
- Be flexible: Seeing something as “non-negotiable” is guaranteed to start a power struggle. If you’re locked in a battle with your child, step back. Pause. Repeat the steps above. Then, look at your patterns: Are there things that seem “non-negotiable” but could be handled differently? Advance planning, creativity, humor, problem-solving, increasing independence and exploring other options together are great ways to avoid going head to head with your child. Learn how to be in charge without using punishments.
So, here I am, locked in a battle with a 3-year old about bedtime.
I feel powerless.
Taking a huge deep breath, I sit down on the floor. I know she’s tired, but I also know that I cannot physically force her to lay down (or fall asleep!)
“You are not ready for bed, huh? Would you like to sit in the rocking chair with me for a few minutes?”
She refuses. Still upset. Scooting around the room to avoid me.
What are my options? What should I do? Nothing. Simply be present. Wait.
A million thoughts surface when I’m in this waiting period…”It’s getting late…the dishes still need to be washed…I’m missing my TV show…what am I doing wrong…if she’s this bad at 3, what is it going to be like at 13…” I work hard to keep my own frustration from surfacing again.
Reminding myself that it’s not “my way or else you’ll be punished” or “you can stay up until midnight.” It’s “I know transitioning to bed is difficult and I’m going to be with you through it.”
Eventually, she begins to soften. I extend my arms, she curls into my lap.
“I’m tired mama. I’m ready for bed.”
I know, little child. I know. “OK, let’s get ready for bed.”
Originally published by Imperfect Families in 2018 and republished with permission in July 2020.