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Parenting: The Bedtime Battle


"My daughter screamed 'I hate you,' for the first time tonight. She heard a little girl at the store say it a few weeks ago, and during the bedtime battle she yelled it out. I just responded, 'I love you,' and left the room as usual. We need to work on finding better words to express our displeasure with bedtime. We'll be having real talk in the morning."

My response: As parents, it is hard when we get into battles with our children. We love them and wish they would more often recognize we have much more experience in life. I remember battling my daughter over this very issue. 

From Joan: Things got easier for us when I started asking myself, "Do I really need to battle her on this issue?" With the going to bed thing, we experimented with giving her more choice and it worked... mostly... sometimes it still turned into a battle about related effects [of her choosing her bed time] such as keeping us awake or having a harder time getting up early the next day, etc. But I was surprised at how quickly she learned to self regulate her own sleeping patterns!

My daughter is an adult now. I still wish I knew then what I know now. I was lucky then to have a friend/mentor who (along with his wife) was parenting five kids like a superman and gave me super valuable advice like that. The "be careful which battles you pick" one was probably my favorite. His kids knew that when he spoke, it was an important issue. It was pretty amazing to be around his family. There was very little "management" going on as the kids mostly self-managed. So yeah, it was great to have that example and information and it helped a lot with my daughter but I knew nothing in those days about deciphering and addressing the basic needs that underlie another person's behavior. I think it would have gone more smooth if I had been practiced at identifying that the little person I loved had a very strong need for choice. I just wasn't thinking that deeply on the issue in those days.

I remember focusing on the fact that she was battling me, her caretaker, provider, and guide. How dare she? I also focused on her methods of rebellion that stimulated so much frustration and pain with oh, yes, red hot anger. Sure, as I mentioned above, I learned to not even play the "authority" game... sometimes... but I sometimes worried if I was being too permissive, etc. I wanted to raise a child who would question authority... just not MINE. Deep down I think I realized back then that was a paradox and a lapse in my own integrity. I mostly excused it because I thought there was no better way. It was only years later that I realized that there were many ways to raise a child with much more choice and much less domination!

At the time, though (20+ years ago), there were so few books or other resources looking at parenting from that angle. Most of my favorite parenting resources were domination culture oriented, even while teaching "softer" ways to manipulate children; still ignoring the idea (I now call it fact) that there is a lot less (than we grow up believing) we actually have to do for or to our kids and actually, the more we find ways to embrace their power, the more likely they grow up to be adults who have an easy time accessing their power, rather than looking to an authority figure for direction.

So now, sigh, it's much too late for me to apply these ideas to my child so for six months I spent a few hours a week at a daycare where they share my ideology and wow it works! Example? Kid hitting another kid? Optimally, I would prefer non-interference to allow them a chance to work it out. But a kid hitting another is one situation where I'll jump in immediately. BUT instead of demonizing one and victimizing the other, I encourage the "victim" to speak up and share how it felt to be hit, etc. We talk (briefly as possible) about that kid's need to be secure/safe/respected. Then the hitter. We talk about his need for being seen or need for power over his environment. Then we talk about ways to get those needs met. "Hey! Wanna play soccer?" (kick a ball instead of other kids). So yeah, at that school there is NO punishment. There is no domination. Kids are always offered choices. We also seek to allow kids to experience natural consequences of those choices, negative and positive, so no, this is not "permissive". Not all the teachers there use my exact method but all are trained in "Conscious Discipline" (developed by Becky Bailey) which is about 90% the same as my methodology. No, it doesn't work all the time with all the kids but I'm seeing enough success to have confidence enough to write this here. 
 
More here on natural consequences

Authors I recommend: Alfie Kohn, Becky Bailey (Conscious Discipline), Marshall Rosenberg, and Skyler J. Collins.

 
Nonviolent Communication Punished by Rewards
Parent Effectiveness Training The Most Dangerious Superstition
The Giver The Five Love Languages
The Four Agreements Mastery of Love
Freedom Liberated Parents Liberated Children
Economics in One Lesson Conceived in Liberty
Daemon Influx
The Skinner Stranger in a Strange Land
WWW Wake Hominids
Anthem Atlas Shrugged
Virtue of Selfishness The Law
 Contact Scott Swain for mediation and Emotional Intelligence Tools training for business, love, and parenting.