To get to self-direction, there are a few universal caveats that apply to the described behavior. First, our children need to understand and agree with both the need for the rule and the consequence for breaking it. Only when they come to agree with our rules, through their own internal dialogue, will they become self-directed. Second, look to your own parenting strategy as the possible source of some of the problem. Are you over-controlling or over-protective? Either trait can elicit an externally directed response, as your children react to an unhealthy situation. Third, remember for all these parenting challenges how important it is for you as parents, to model the right behavior. If you're expecting your children to act one way and you act another, the double standard will throw a monkey wrench into their whole internal dialogue machinery.
And lastly, don't forget to laugh.
Why They Do It
Most children resist going to bed because they don't want to miss any of the action happening with the rest of the family. Sometimes, they enjoy waging a great big power struggle, because that means they get more of your attention.
If your children don't finish their "pre-bedtime" routine in time, like brushing their teeth, taking their bath, and putting on their pajamas-guess what! There won't be enough time for a bedtime story. (Be sure to always find enough time to tuck them in and kiss them, though.)
If your children get to bed late, they'll be tired, and next day and you can capitalize on their sleep deprivation by creating logical consequences. "Jane, you look exhausted after not getting enough sleep. I guess you won't be able to go to Mirel's party today after all."
Solutions Toward Self-Direction
Give choices: "Would you like to go to bed at 7:30 or 7:45 tonight?"
Use questioning: "What are our rules about getting ready for bed?" "So, what do you need to do now?"
Use impartial descriptions and information: "It's important to get enough sleep every night to feel good the next day." "I guess we won't be able to go to the park tomorrow, since you won't have had enough sleep tonight."
Use humor: "The sleep fairy is twitching. She has a nervous breakdown when kids don't go to bed on time."
Never fall for the "one more glass of water" routine. My five-year-old used to come up with all sorts of excuses: "I have one more question." "I need to go pee-pee." "I need to go poo-poo." "I'm thirsty." "I forgot to hug you." "I forgot to give you a kiss." If the original routine is followed to the letter, everything else is just a stall tactic. Bedtime means they must remain in their rooms until morning. Trust me, they won't die of thirst or hunger, and they won't drown in a puddle of pee in their sleep.
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