QUESTION: 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?
ANSWER: 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.
[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]