Dr Becky, parenting coach, psychologist, and my latest obsession, tells us to embody authority with our children.
She quips, “We don’t tell our kids ‘if you run into the street, you won’t get dessert.’”
No. We have strict boundaries for our children’s safety, and not a lot of guilt about it. We understand that it’s for their own good.
So why, then, is it so hard for so many of us to have clear boundaries around other important things, like bedtime?
We don’t feel guilty for preventing our child from being hit by a car. Why do we feel guilty for making sure they get enough rest?
Well, the reason is that we have this mistaken belief that it’s our job in life to prevent our children from ever feeling pain. And while this is a very understandable goal, it’s also a totally unrealistic one. Humans experience all kinds of emotional pain. At every age. From screaming at the indignity of a diaper change to getting rejected by a college. Life hurts.
We can’t prevent our children from feeling pain, but what we can do is teach them that they can live through it, that they are capable, that we will love them through it all. Maintaining boundaries with loving firmness helps them learn this.
Also, and this is important, children tend to be anxious little people. They don’t quite understand how the world works. And being absolutely consistent in your boundaries with them actually makes them less anxious in the long run. They know that Mom or Dad or their Adult is always in charge, and that’s reassuring.
And of course, they are less anxious and more happy when their biological needs for food and sleep are being met.
One of the ways I help clients is by helping them set boundaries with their children. It’s really okay to skip bedtime stories if your child procrastinated too long over toothbrushing. Not as a punishment, but because bedtime is 7:30 and the clock says 7:30.
It’s really okay to not go back in the bedroom after lights out to give one more hug/kiss/sip of water/fix of the blanket. These are not biological needs. These are your child’s last ditch attempts to connect with you and while perfectly understandable, the time to connect has ended and now it’s time to sleep.
Children are never happy for us to set boundaries. It’s not our jobs, believe it or not, to make them happy. That is their responsibility. It’s our job to keep them fed and safe and warm and loved. Love does not mean being accessible 24 hours a day.
Our job as parents is to get comfortable with discomfort. To not need our kids to be okay with bedtime. To assert our authority and insist on bedtime anyway.
If you need help maintaining bedtime authority, you are not alone! Schedule a free consult and get your entire family sleeping beautifully in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.