Instead of yelling, sleep on It
Parents do not get enough sleep. End of story. Whether it’s caring for a fussy new born or pulling an all-nighter helping your 4th grader finish the report that is ALWAYS due after a long Holiday weekend (Seriously teachers? ). Kids interfere with your sleep, they just do. It’s part of their DNA and a requirement of being a kid.
You still need to sleep. According to Health.com, there are 11 major health benefits of simply sleeping, including; improved attention, living longer, losing weight, decreasing stress, and decreasing inflammation.
Going even a few nights with interrupted sleep makes me CRAZY with a capital “C”. I mean the kind of crazy, where someone needs to lock me up and throw away the key. You know what I mean, those times when you feel your temperature rising, you stomp around, and mutter incoherent things under your breath.
It’s embarrassing. Embarrassing because I know better and even more embarrassing because those are the same old phrases that my parents use to use that my brother and I just laughed at after Mom and Dad left the room.
During the past few years, several families have started our sessions by saying “Well-we were both really tired…” or “Well-I’m always tired, I don’t ever sleep.” Figuring out how to sleep and getting enough sleep is a big deal.
Speaking for only myself, I love my kids and absolutely enjoy being a father…during the day. At night…or in the middle of the night…mmm not so much. Like I said, going without sleep for me is tough, but it’s even tougher on my kids. I become a “punisher” instead of a “teacher”.
I become a punisher when I start yelling irrational things because I can’t think clearly. I become a punisher when I give my kids a consequence I know will hurt them, instead of giving them a consequence that they can learn from.
For what it’s worth, my opinion is that if I’m up late yelling irrational things at my kids and they’re laughing afterwards, I’m not getting through and we’re not really communicating. Note to self: Sleep on it and talk about it in the morning.
Punishing vs. Teaching
Believe me, punishment has a place in our home, but I hope that teaching has a bigger place, it’s own place, a guest room maybe. ☺
The goal is to teach children, not punish them. By definition Punishment is a behavior that inflicts emotional or physical pain on a child. This parenting style or technique does not work in my home nor do I believe that it works in other homes.
Children often do one of two things when they are being punished, 1) they isolate, withdraw and look for revenge or 2) their feelings are hurt, they cry, and believe they are bad children.
Punishment alone does not work because children completely miss the intent of their parent’s consequence which is “You’ve done something that is not in your best interest, I love you and am going to give you a consequence so that you don’t do it again.” This message seems logical right?
Wrong, the REAL message children most often remember is the frustration in our voices, our disappointed glares and the shaming feeling of having done something “bad”. I can tell immediately when I’ve punished instead of taught because it ALWAYS feels like something is missing.
I walk away thinking “I don’t think they know why I’m mad”. I missed an opportunity to teach them what they should have done differently, and they missed an opportunity to learn something new. There has to be a teaching component with each consequence.
The teaching component should be directed towards the learning style of the child and be as specific as possible. For example, let’s say that you have a child with a messy, unorganized backpack. His teacher tells you he has homework, but he can never find it. You sit down to help him with it, open up the Spider-man back pack and you find what looks to be the entire recycling bin stuffed in there.
An appropriate teaching interaction in this moment would be sitting down with him, explaining that it’s difficult to find any thing in there because it’s so messy, and that he’s going to spend the next several minutes having to organize his backpack. It’s also important to explain that every day he comes home with a messy back pack, he’ll need to organize it first before starting his study time.
On days that his back pack is really messy, his study time might then run into his video game time. Your son is then much more motivated to keep his back pack organized, and complete his homework in a timely manner. Think about this from the child’s perspective. This teaching experience is a completely different learning environment from what could have been a very punishing one.
I am definitely a morning person, while my wife is a night owl. I’m not a good parent when I’m tired because I’m impatient and angry. I regret these dumb things in the morning and find myself apologizing to my family. When I get like this, the teaching parent has left the building and my kids suffer. We have created a new system in our home where we only talk about the discipline stuff with our children when we are calm.
Knowing this, my wife has set a 9:00 pm rule that I thank her for and dutifully obey. At 9:00 I tap out, hug and kiss the kids and she takes over. The next morning, I wake up early handle the morning routine while she sleeps in. By doing this, we have increased the amount of teaching moments we have with our children and significantly decreased the Punishing ones.
Battle is on
The other day this teaching theory was put to the test. My wife was sick and out of commission, I was alone and on my own for the evening. The night time routine went smoothly and we all went to sleep. I thought I heard a few laughs and giggles from the girls room, but I let it go.
Later, I woke up in the middle of the night to get a drink and as was working my way blindly towards the fridge, I tripped on a pair of shoes. Kids shoes-right where they belong, in the middle of the dang hallway. Missile # 1-had been launched.
Now a little perspective, it’s 3:00 a.m., my brain was only functioning at 20% of what I’d prefer and my brain was convinced that these shoes were strategically placed in the hallway by my son as an act of war. “The little punk” I said out lout, followed by the famous parenting phrase “if I had a dollar for every time…”
My rant then continued for few seconds as I stumbled into the kitchen and reached for the light switch. It was sticky and now my fingers were covered in…something.
Of course, the most logical thing to do next, would be to investigate further by using my olfactory senses. Taking a sniff, I recognized the sweet scent of honey. My son had walked around the house with sticky honey fingers. Missile #2-direct hit.
The score of this 3:00 AM battle is 6 year-old-son 2, 35-year- old father 0. Not only did he leave his shoes so I would trip over them, he intentionally placed honey on the light switch to make mad. (Insert incoherent mutterings about my son having bananas for brains here…)
Then, I realized if honey was plastered on the light switch, there could be honey ANYWHERE. Fully awake and on a mission, I opened my son’s door expecting to yell and scream and maybe throw my own tantrum, but strangely found the light switch not covered in honey, and my son sleeping peacefully under his favorite train blanket.
Seeing him sound asleep, I was struck by the thought of how much I love the dang kid and how relieved I was that I didn’t start yelling and yank him out of bed to clean up messes he didn’t make.
Is Minnie Mouse Rock Climbing?
My son clearly wasn’t the missile launching war monger I’d made him out to be. I closed the door and entered the girl’s room and my nostrils were immediately filled with the sweet scent of honey. Bent over my 3-year-old’s bed to investigate, I reached out and touch her hands. Sticky. I turned the light on to assess the damage and noticed what appeared to be a Minnie Mouse stuffed animal climbing the wall above her bed.
“What in the world?” I asked myself laughing. I was completely confused and now extremely curious.
I reached out and pulled on Minnie but she was stuck. I pulled harder and heard a deep sucking noise. In between Minnie Mouse and the wall was a piece of toast, double sided with honey.
Walking back to the kitchen to find a wash rag, I noticed a small cup and plate with the open honey jar and a butter knife.
Again, I laughed out loud and admitted that the last few inconvenient minutes, are the same precious minutes that I enjoy being a dad most.
They remind me of being a young, curious kid out to find adventure. I’m reminded that my kids mean well and that the absurd messes left around the house are only there because the kids were having an awesome time.
Deep down I’m a little jealous. In that moment, I realized I want to be having fun with them, instead of being this grown man who stomps around, asking them grilling questions, like they’re on trial.
In that moment, I commit to having more fun with them and to join in on their next adventure.
I washed the honey off of the wall, wiped off my daughter’s sticky hands, and put my son’s shoes away. After putting the rag away, I realized that I haven’t wiped off the light switch. I wanted to leave it for my wife to find SOOOO bad, but then I’d be the one with bananas for brains.
I wiped the light switch, went back to bed anxiously awaiting the funny story my 3 year old would tell me in the morning. I was relieved that I found the moment humorous, and realized that it could have gone very differently. I could have yanked them all out of bed and lined them up on the wall trying to demand answers.
I could have easily been angry and frustrated, but thankfully found a moment to laugh instead. Waking up the next morning, I asked each of three blonde bed heads sitting at the table for breakfast if they knew anything about the honey. The oldest daughter and a trustworthy eye witness told me a funny story about overhearing a conversation between her 3 year old sister and her roommate, Minnie Mouse. Sounds like Minnie Mouse was aching for a honey sandwich.
I took a few minutes to discuss some bedtime rules with the youngest, praised her for feeding her stuffed animal friend, but explained that because I had to clean up a few of the messes she made, she was going to help me with a few of my chores.
I spent the next 15 minutes teaching her how to clean off the table (which is exactly 14 minutes longer than if I had done it by myself ☺) and 15 more minutes than we would have spent together if I had just sent her to time out for making a mess.
So, moral of the story: don’t punish, TEACH. Teaching your children instead of punishing them will not only improve their understanding of what you expect, but more importantly it will improve your relationship.
If both you and your child are angry and frustrated, take a break, come back to it when you’re both willing to listen.
If you’re like me and become a monster at nighttime, try not to be overly critical of your children before you go to bed.
Find that time of day when you’re alert, awake and are willing to TEACH.
Learn how to TEACH instead of punish by learning the skill of Correcting Behaviors and watch how your family changes.
Jesse Heaton is a Mental Health Therapist who has worked with children and families for the last 12 years. Jesse has worked in several different treatment settings including detention programs, treatment homes, recovery centers and an Autism Spectrum long term care facility. Jesse is a parent of three children and a member of the Smarter Parenting Team.