I spend the majority of my waking hours with my kids. I hug and kiss them, prepare snacks and lunches and plan activities every day. I’ve learned that they obviously love me, but also act differently around me then they do around their dad and other people.
Case in point, when it came to bedtime, my 3-1/2 year old son would totally play me. I felt so disrespected and pushed over. I took it too personally and I hated it. My husband and I alternate who is in charge of bedtimes each night. I started to notice on the nights my husband would put my son to bed he would easily put on his PJ’s, read books and hop right into bed without getting up. Lights out, door closed, done. Not to be heard from until 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
On the nights that I put him to bed it was a struggle with each step. He has eczema so each night we have to put lotion and medicine on his skin before putting him in his PJ’s. As soon as he sees me get out the lotion he starts running around like an escaped monkey from the zoo. It was funny at first but then after a few nights of me trying to get him to cooperate and he flat out ignoring me, I started to get frustrated.
I would change my tone, get upset, roll my eyes and sigh. When I put him to bed I would shut out the light, shut the door and not even get two steps from the door before I heard those little feet hop right off the bed and head towards the door. So I would walk him back into his room and make him lay back down. I’d make it halfway down the stairs before I heard those feet hit the floor again…sigh… Then when I finally thought I had accomplished putting him to bed I would be downstairs cleaning up the kitchen and all of a sudden I would feel those little eyes staring at me. Big sigh…
Sometimes this routine would go on for an hour until I could come up with just the right threat that would keep him in bed. I remember one night after I was at wits end with getting him to use the bathroom before bed when he said to me, “Mommy, why are you being so mean?” [Insert the sound of my heart breaking here]. I knew I had to change how I handled him.
My husband would try to coach me with his accomplished bedtime method. But I would just get annoyed because he didn’t understand that even if I operated EXACTLY like Daddy I wasn’t Daddy. I was Mommy, the one they spend the majority of their time with, but also the one that sometimes caves to their requests because they give me that sweet little smile. I had to do things differently, but my way.
My son is incredibly reward driven. Light bulb! I decided I would create a chart specifically for bedtime where I would focus on him staying in his room each night. At first I got too focused on making a cute little chart that was perfect. I realized that he didn’t care what it looked like as long as he could put his stickers on it. So I drew it right in front of him so he was part of the activity.
He would earn a sticker for each night he stayed in his room. After earning three stickers he would get to pick out a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (his choice) at Target. Well, okay I was thinking a matchbox car but whatever. I was desperate.
So the first night we started the chart he didn’t stay in his bed so he didn’t earn a sticker. We talked about it the next morning and I pointed at the chart to show him he only needed three stickers to earn his Ninja Turtle. The second night, something must have clicked because he stayed in his bed. The next morning he proudly stuck his sticker on the chart. The next two nights, same result. I couldn’t believe this was working! After he earned his three stickers we made a special trip to Target to pick out his Ninja Turtle. After he put the correlation together of earning stickers to get rewards he was sold.
I’ve learned from all of this that it’s so easy for me to get mad and threaten him into making the right choices, but I would never get the results I wanted. He craved rewards and positive reinforcement which on my part honestly takes more work to reverse my thinking. I work on it literally everyday whether it’s trying to get him to potty before we leave the house or stand patiently while I put on his medicine.
A simple reward chart changed it all. I went from dreading bedtime to finally feeling like I had total control over it. I call the shots. Not him. I actually could enjoy sitting and reading with him without steam coming out of my ears. It has definitely made our relationship better.
So now that bedtime is back on track we might have to focus on him earning stickers when he doesn’t shove his little sister…Sigh…