Let’s Make a Deal!
Bedtime is a tricky thing. It’s a time of day when our parenting skills are regularly tested, and we’re most likely to fall back into our default parenting mode. As we were trying to get the bedtime routine going one night, it quickly became clear that our job was not going to be easy. All 3 kids were in full ‘ignore’ mode. Usually, if they’re ignoring us it means that they don’t want to do what we’re asking them to do, and we’ve been trying to teach them to ask for a compromise (we call it ‘making a deal’ or ‘explaining their idea’) instead of ignoring. It gets tricky at bedtime, though, because we’re all just so tired it’s hard to stick to the script. That night, an amazing thing happened: one of our boys pushed past his exhaustion and asked for a deal instead of melting down. We almost missed it! We were so frustrated with the ignoring that we almost said, “Forget it. You need to get ready for bed now; we don’t have time for you to tow that fire truck out of that ditch.” I’m glad we didn’t do that. Instead, we agreed that he could finish up and then start his bedtime routine. Once the fire truck was towed to safety, he cooperated with us willingly!
Through our Empowered to Connect training, we have been learning about sharing power with our children (watch Dr. Karyn Purvis talk about shared power here). There are a few ideas behind this concept: one is that children can’t learn responsibility and good decision-making unless they practice it. Another reason for sharing power is to teach our children that we care about what they want and need, and that we are committed to a relationship with them more than we are to imposing our will on them. This is a tricky thing to practice – after all, aren’t parents supposed to be the authority in the home? How can we give our children power and expect them to obey us? What will people think if they see us allowing our children to make compromises and negotiate with us?? Besides all that, it’s inconvenient and time-consuming. It would be so much easier if my kids just wanted to do exactly what I wanted them to do, when and where I wanted them to do it (time to give my expectations a reality check!!).
Clearly, parents need to establish themselves as the authority in the home. Our children are not capable of surviving on their own – we need to be in charge. And they need to know that. But does being in charge mean that it’s our way or the highway? Do we insist on instant, unquestioning compliance, or could we allow for dialogue, giving them the dignity of knowing that they have a voice and that their desires matter to us? Instead of giving in to frustration when compliance isn’t instant, we try to give appropriate choices whenever possible, and we teach them how to ask for compromises.
I find it helpful to frequently re-evaluate how I relate to my children. Do I take their concerns seriously? Do I communicate how much I value them by giving them voice and considering their needs and wants? I want them to know that my relationship with them is far more important than my agenda, and while certain things are non-negotiable (going to bed, for example) how we get there is up for grabs!
A few fun ways to share power:
- While driving around in the city (and if you have a bit of extra time and are familiar with the area!) let them decide if you’ll turn right or left at the next intersection!
- For that child who is a chronic avoider of bedtime, give them choices as to how they’ll get there – ask “Would you like to walk or can I give you a piggyback?” For older/bigger kids, ask “Would you like to walk or should I challenge you to a race?” This can even extend to tooth brushing – “Which sink would you like to spit into?”
- Have a couple different outfits available to choose from for the child who finds it difficult to get dressed in the morning.
- Defuse tricky situations with shared power – try asking “Are you ready to talk about what happened, or do you need a few more minutes?” (Don’t forget to set a timer and follow through!)
Have your views on power and authority in the home undergone a shift? What are some ways you share power in your family to give voice and teach life skills?