You’re not the boss of me!
She can stall and stall and stall for hours. And then stall some more. Between her delaying tactics, tendency to tune you out, and meltdowns when you finally put your foot down, there’s no question who calls the shots. How did someone so little become so powerful?
Be a good boss.
You know where bedtime is headed when she won’t come out of the bath, refuses to put on her PJ’s, and pulls out the playdough when she’s supposed to be brushing her teeth. It’s definitely ending in tears: hers and yours. Forget about the past – tomorrow’s another day. Here’s how to avoid the power struggle before it begins:
- Give plenty of smart choices: offer only two options and you have to be okay with either one. If she struggles to make decisions, count to ten and then decide for her. In our house, this goes down something like:
Me: “Do you want your McQueen pyjamas or dinosaurs?”
Jack: “Um…” while he continues to build the laundry mountain he’s supposed to be putting away.
Me: silently counting to five before “Okay, dinosaurs it is.” By bedtime there’s not enough patience left to count to ten.
Jack (whipping his head around): “Oh yeah, dinosaurs,” or “NOOOO! Lightning McQueen!” If he asks nicely I’ll give him what he wants, which is sweet, sweet victory in his eyes (and makes him more likely to comply for the rest of the night).
- Communicate your expectations and your frustrations when you’re both in a good mood. Be totally honest, as in “When you don’t listen to me and dawdle when you’re supposed to be getting ready for bed/eating dinner/going to the bathroom, it makes me feel frustrated and I get grumpy.” Most of the time they seriously don’t have a clue until you explode, and then they’re too hurt and confused to think it through for next time.
- Brainstorm potential consequences together, such as losing out on story time, no night light, or sleeping without her fave sleeping buddy if she’s not ready within a specific timeframe (set your oven/iPhone timer so you don’t have to be the bad guy AGAIN). Involving her helps her feel like part of the solution too – major confidence boost. And definitely remember the key to consequences: follow-through!
- Redirect her if she’s stalling BEFORE it gets out of control. Ask “What are you supposed to be doing?” instead of amping up the “I already told you to put on your pyjamas!” Redirection can be in shut-er-down format (“I don’t know what happened at nursery school, but I’d love to hear it tomorrow because now it’s time for bed.”) or choice-style (“Do you want to keep interrupting me and we’ll run out of time, or should we finish the story?”)
- Say no without saying no. Instead of the knee-jerk N-to-the-O when she asks for one last sip of water, try “It’s not time for water it’s time for sleep. Can you go to sleep quietly or should I turn off your night-light?” And if she’s begging for just one more minute to colour pleeeeease try “Sure, if you get your PJ’s on superfast you can colour as much as you want until the timer beeps!”
- Use pictures/charts to convey the message/routine so you don’t get stuck in a broken record cycle. This also puts them in charge of remembering… which is awesome! It’s a lot easier to craft a chart together than to nag “Did you brush your teeth?” for the zillionth time. And left unchecked, that single question can turn into “Do you have your lunch/mittens/homework/piano book/soccer ball?” before you blink. Yikes.
- Set age appropriate expectations. Alex can get ready for bed in five minutes. Jack… not so much. But if we set a reasonable timeframe, encourage him while he works it out, and don’t discourage him by comparing him to his older bro or complaining about his sloooooow pace… booyah.
- Recognize when she’s doing a great job and let her know. We break down their confidence far. too. often when we rush/criticize/nag/yell, so don’t miss an opportunity to build it back up. Our boys earn a point every time they get ‘er done without any reminders, and also any time they help out without being asked. Once they’ve earned eight points they get a pack of hockey cards – their latest currency. The extra awesomeness of this modified sticker chart is that if we have to ask/nag a second time then they lose a point. And even more awesome than that? Their pride.
You hold the cards in your relationship but sharing them makes her more likely to cooperate. She doesn’t like upsetting you either, and working it out together means she’ll do her best, so you’ll do your best, so she’ll do her best, so you’ll do your best, so… everyone’s happy.
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