Parenting January 2023: Boundary No. 1 is the Marital Bed
Living With Children by John Rosemond
"Living With Children" by John Rosemond
January 2023 Issue
Boundary No. 1 is the Marital Bed
Q: Several months ago, my husband and I allowed our five-year-old daughter to sleep with us for a couple of nights. We thought this was innocent, but she began crying hysterically when we tried to move her back to her own bed. We compromised by letting her keep her iPad with her until she fell asleep but quickly realized that her device keeps her awake well past OUR bedtime. If we try to make her turn it off, she becomes highly agitated and it’s just not worth it. How can we get her back in her own bed without dramatics?
A: I can help you get your daughter back in her own bed, without a device, but “without dramatics” is a non-starter at this point.
The pertinent question: Why do you and your husband have difficulty making decisions that upset your daughter, especially given that the decisions in question—she sleeps in her own bed through the night and without an electronic insomnia machine—are good ones?
So what if Princess Petulance gets upset at something you decree? She is five-years-old, for Petes’s sake! She does not know what is in her best interest. Plus, as are most children her age, she is ruled by her emotions. So, she wants to sleep with you (not in her best interest, let me assure you) and if she can’t sleep with you, she wants to play on a screen-based electronic device (that you should not have given her in the first place) that keeps her awake such that she doesn’t get enough sleep (not in her best interest), and she screams like a Bedlam inmate if you take the latter from her (proof that she cannot make good personal decisions, that she needs resolute managers)?
You’ve given your daughter the proverbial inch; now she wants the proverbial mile, and she is going to make you suffer (as well you deserve, given the mistakes you have made until now) if you don’t give her what she—a five-year-old!—wants. And you think I can come up with a strategy that will solve your problems without precipitating a dump truck full of drama? Excuse me while I stifle hilarious laughter.
The problem is that as do many of today’s parents, you view your daughter’s hysterics as psychologically significant. You think that when she shrieks about a decision you have made, her shrieking is indication that you’ve made a hurtful decision; thus, your first priority is to calm her down. No, your first priority is to exercise proper authority over her.
Parent/child boundaries are important and boundary number one is the marital bed. Your daughter needs to sleep in her own bed, whether she wants to or not. At bedtime, she needs to go to sleep, not play video games.
Her parents need to straighten their backbones and tell said daughter that bedtime occurs in her bed, not yours, and that the purpose of bedtime is to sleep. Also mention to her that she can cry about it for as long as it takes.
That is an example of “reality therapy”—the best therapy of all.
Are You making A Mountain Out of a Molehill?
Q: My just-turned four-year-old repeats things he has heard or has said before. For example, even though my brother’s family moved away nearly two years ago, whenever we drive by their old house he will say, “There’s Uncle Frank’s house!” He also asks questions when he knows the answers. For example, if I’m wearing a green dress, and even though he knows his colors, he will ask, “Is your dress green, Mommy?” Lately, when he asks a question of this sort, I ask him, “What do you think?” I want him to answer his own question, but he immediately becomes quiet. He’s obviously bright, but I’m beginning to think there may be something wrong. In any case, this habit of his has become very irritating. What do you think?
A: I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. If there is a problem, it would fall into one of three “D” categories: discipline, development, or disorder. You’re certainly not describing a discipline problem. Furthermore, my rather extensive experience as a parent, grandparent, and family psychologist tells me that what you’re describing is no big deal.
Your son is simply trying to figure out how to engage in conversation. During the second and third years of life, a child develops the fundamentals of language and begins constructing sentences. Three-year-old children are known for monologues. They’ll go on and on about seemingly nothing, jumping from topic to topic, not interested in what anyone else might have to say. At four, the art of give-and-take conversation begins to develop. Your son is simply trying to figure out how to have interactive exchanges with other people. And yes, a child’s first attempts at conversation can be annoying.
I know it takes a lot of patience to respond with more than “Uh-huh” to your son’s repetitious statements and seemingly unnecessary questions, but in this case, patience will pay off handsomely for both of you. Take the time to teach him what conversation is all about by responding to these “annoyances” with a question that causes him to think and draws him into a discussion.
For example, the next time he says, “There’s Uncle Frank’s house!” you can ask, “Do you remember where Uncle Frank lives now?”
If he asks, “Is your dress green, Mommy?” you can respond with “Can you name another green thing?”
Helping your son with give-and-take conversation will quicken his overall language skills. In turn, you will begin to enjoy talking with him. Perhaps best of all, he will irritate you no longer.
John Rosemond is an American columnist, public speaker, family psychologist and author on parenting. His weekly parenting column is syndicated in approximately 225 newspapers, and he has authored 15 books on the subject. His ideas revolve around the ideas of authority for the parents and discipline for children. For more information, visit www.johnrosemond.com and www.parentguru.com.