Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond
How To Ensure Your Children Sleep on Their Own
Q: I’m a working single mom with a 4-year-old daughter who won’t go to sleep unless I lie down with her. Plus, if she wakes up in the middle of the night to find I’m no longer in her bed, she comes and crawls into bed with me. If I attempt to persuade her to go back to her bed, she starts to cry. To be honest, I just don’t have the strength to fight it. She knows what I want her to do, but she also knows I have yet to enforce it. Can you provide me with a workable plan that will not cause her – and therefore me – anguish?
A: Sorry, but there is no such thing as an anguish-free method of turning your daughter into an independent sleeper. Your story is evidence of what I’ve been saying for years: independent sleepers are happier, more well-adjusted children. Let’s face it, you are describing a 4-year-old bedtime basket case – yet another in a long list of casualties of parent/child co-sleeping. And to think there are trusted “experts” out there who recommend this emotionally crippling practice! I could name names, but I’m writing this in an uncharacteristically charitable mood.
First, the longer you cater to your daughter’s bedtime drama, the worse it is going to become. I strongly encourage you to begin your daughter’s bedtime rehabilitation next Friday night, at the latest. If possible, take Thursday and Friday off work and implement the following solution on Wednesday night. That gives you four nights of “cure” before you go back to work, and four nights ought to do it. Second, there is no way of doing this without upsetting your daughter. Just keep in mind that her screams are symptoms of withdrawal, and withdrawal is painful but not harmful. Third, the solution will be more traumatic for all concerned if introduced in stages. It absolutely must be introduced all at once, cold turkey, and once introduced, you must not waver.
The solution: On Tuesday night, tell your daughter that you’ve spoken with her doctor, and he said you can no longer, come the big day, lie down with her at bedtime, nor can she come into your bed in the night. Remind her that people are required by the laws of common sense to do what their doctors tell them to do. But you’ve decided that after you put her to bed and leave (Do not linger!), she can turn on every light in her room and take her time falling asleep. You’ll even give her a sleeping bag and set up a tent for her to sleep in if that’s what she wants. Sleeping can be an adventure! But she must sleep in her room. The doctor said so, and that’s that.
Furthermore, the doctor said that when you go to bed, you must lock your door. She can drag her sleeping bag into the hall outside your door and sleep there, but you cannot so much as open your door until morning.
Again, the key is not to waver. Your daughter is probably going to scream, cry, beg, and make promises to the effect that if you allow her to sleep with you just one more night, she’ll never ask to sleep with you again. Be prepared for a night straight out of a Stephen King novel, but don’t you dare open that door! In the morning, act like nothing happened. Only two or three more nights to go!
Keep this in mind: When this is over, and it soon will be, you’ll see a much happier little girl waking up in the morning.
The Futility of Reasoning With Children
Many if not most if not almost all of today’s parents believe in magic words. They do so because the mental health professional community has for fifty years or so told them that children can be reasoned with, a claim that exposes the general lack of intellectual rigor in the mental health professions.
Magic words are words parents believe will magically change a child’s attitude or behavior. Parents who believe in magic words are often found explaining to their kids why certain behavior is hurtful, counterproductive, irresponsible, or just plain wrong (albeit they try not to use that word lest it precipitate a psychological apocalypse). In these one-way magic word sessions, said parents are searching for words that will fill their children’s brains with enlightenment. When enlightenment does not occur – as evidence by relapse of the attitude or behavior in question – said parents try again.
The victims of these attempts to find magic words pretend to be listening as their parents carefully explain why their behavior represents “choices” that are not looked upon favorably and will not advance them toward riches and fame. When the parent in question has exhausted his supply of hopefully magic words, he asks the child the magic question, “Do you understand?” to which no child has ever answered, “Not quite, Dad. Can you go over that part again about how what I did hurt Billy’s feelings?” The child answers, “Yes,” which is reliable indication that the parent’s magic words went in one ear and out the other.
The child knows that “Yes” will bring a blessed end to the stream of nonsense coming from the parent’s mouth, so “Yes” it is. And so it does. And sure enough, less than two weeks later, the parent is once again streaming magic words at a child who understands nothing but will say “Yes” when called upon to do so.
Children do not change their behavior or attitude because of magic words. They make changes in their lives as the result of trial and error – the latter, mostly. In other words, they change their behavior because of life experience. An irresponsible child cannot be talked into responsibility. A rude child cannot be talked into graciousness. A defiant child cannot be talked into obedience. And so on.
Furthermore, it is a rule that the more parents talk, the less children listen. It is also a rule that the more parents talk, the less authoritative they sound. Instead, they sound persuasive, and parents who sound persuasive do not sound like authority figures. Generally speaking, getting a child to move off square one requires an offer he can’t refuse: what I call a “Godfather” offer. (If you’re scratching your head at that one, you’re under the age of fifty and need to watch the movie.)
“According to the world’s leading expert on the subject, your seeming inability to do what you are capable of doing in school means you aren’t getting enough sleep. So, until your grades come up to par and stay there for four weeks straight, you are going to bed, lights out, immediately after dinner whether your homework is done or not. We are hoping that your sleep deprivation is cured in short order.”
Those are magic words.
Be the Best Father by Being the Best Husband You Can Be
Guys! Guys! Look, your wives, bless their hearts, are having enough trouble putting their children and priorities into proper perspective without you adding to the muddle. Keep it straight, please.
I’m referring to the media voices telling you to be better fathers. Three times in the last six months or so I’ve been invited on podcasts promoting fatherhood. The hosts are well-meaning, sincere, articulate fellows who apparently didn’t know they were interviewing a guy who never says what other people expect him to say.
For example, in response to my answer to a certain predictable question, one podcaster said, “Well, I’m sure the fathers listening will be surprised to hear that.”
His question: “What one thing would you tell dads to help them be the fathers their sons and daughters most need?”
My surprising answer: “Be the best husbands you can be.”
That’s right. The best fathers are husbands first, fathers second. That’s what children truly need. Nothing – repeat, NOTHING – puts a more solid foundation of well-being under a child’s feet than the knowledge his parents are in a committed relationship that transcends their individual relationships with him. Repeat, NOTHING!
A father’s primary job is not to spend as much time with his kids as reality will allow. It is to show his sons how to properly treat a woman and show his daughters what to look for in a man. Period. End of Job One description.
A father does an invaluable service to his kids by opening doors for their mother, listening and speaking to her with utmost respect, sharing and easing her burdens, going to her first when he comes home from work, hugging her, kissing her, and asking, “How was your day, Babes?” Uncomplicated stuff like that is what counts in the end.
When their father is taking care of Job One, children don’t need a lot of attention. They go off and do their own thing, which is what they really want to do and parents should want them to do. Once upon a time, it was called “being out from underfoot.” In almost all cases, children clamor for attention not because they need it, but because they’ve been given entirely too much. Under the circumstances, the “need” for attention becomes a nagging compulsion.
My general finding has been that when a husband gives more attention to his kids than he does his wife, the kids begin treating her with disrespect. They ignore her, demand of her, talk back to her, refuse to obey her. They disrespect her because dad has his priorities out of whack. He’s in more of a relationship with them than he is with her. As such, they have become dad’s quasi-equals. That diminishes mom’s status, and the kids talk to her as if she was a servant.
Said podcasters were also surprised when I said that the husband-absent home – one in which an adult male is present but has pledged allegiance to his kids – is as much if not more of a problem than the father-absent home. It’s more of a problem because no one talks about it. It’s an invisible ubiquity, sustained by silence.
So, let’s begin the conversation. Dads can respond to me at email@example.com. I’d like to hear from you moms, too, by the way. After all, your stake in this is HUGE.
The Drama of a Child's Feelings
One of the more unfortunate consequences of relying on advice from mental health “experts” concerning parenting matters has been a one-dimensional understanding of child discipline. Because of the infiltration of psychological theory into childrearing, most parents conceive of discipline as being all about correcting behavior. Indeed, a child’s behavior requires correction, but raising a child out of the inferiority of childhood into a state of authentic adulthood requires discipline of a child’s thinking and emotions as well. Take it from a recovering graduate student, one is not taught that in psychology school.
Just as children must learn to behave correctly, they must also learn to think and emote correctly. Contrary to contemporary psychological propaganda, not all feelings are valid or deserving of exploration. “I have a right to feel like I do” is correct, but the pressing question is, does one have a “right” to indiscriminately inflict his feelings on other people? No, he does not, and children should be taught that most feelings are private matters and should remain as such.
Feelings make us human, and it is fine for person to express certain feelings in certain contexts with certain other people. But feelings are not, in and of themselves, good things. Undisciplined emotion is potentially destructive to self and others.
Fifty or so years ago, the profession of psychology decided – without evidence, as usual – that understanding children required deciphering their feelings. In short order, good parenting became defined as the ability to understand and properly respond to a child’s emotional output. Parents began talking to their children about their feelings and treating any feeling a child had as worthy of attention and validation. And so, children began expressing more feelings, which goes a long way toward explaining why child mental health today is ten times worse than it was when there was little parent-child discussion of feelings and parents had no problem telling a child that certain feelings he was having were immature and unwarranted and that he needed to get a grip.
If left to his congenital emotional inclinations – impulsivity and exaggeration, predominately – a child begins to view the world as a drama and becomes a drama factory. He believes that a life without soap opera is a life without meaning. That belief system puts said child at great risk. It should not be encouraged. Unfortunately, some adults, as well-meaning as they may be, encourage it by engaging children in conversation about it.
Twice recently parents have told me of pre-teen children whose emotional control went down the proverbial tubes shortly after beginning to see therapists. In both cases, the therapists were talking to the kids about – yep – their feelings. In one case, a pre-teen girl began cutting. In another, a pre-teen boy began having full-blown temper tantrums when life didn’t conform to his immature standards.
The good news: In both cases, when the parents put an end to the therapy, confiscated the kids’ phones, and told them that limited reinstatement (phones that would call and text only) would depend on them showing immediate and significant evidence of accelerating maturity, the children began repressing their feelings (horrors!) and acting again like reasonably well-adjusted pre-adolescents.
Proving that in the final analysis, straightforward truth is the best therapy of all.
Parents of Bullies Can (and Should) Stop the Cycle
A sixth-grade teacher recently shared the following story with me: Two girls in her class were making fun of a classmate whose family was struggling financially. The girl was socially awkward and had no friends. The mocking was taking place both at school and on social media.
As I read the teacher’s email, I reminisced about what being in the sixth grade was like in the late 1950s, before smart phones, video games, and social media began corrupting childhood. Actually, I have no idea what it was like for girls because girls were the stuff of fantasy only, and believe it or not, lots of boys still had no interest in girls and vice versa.
I have, however, talked to lots of women my age who tell me that girlhood back then was not marked by the sorts of personal and social dramas that mark it today. Some girls, I am told (and was aware), formed cliques, but open bullying of other girls was a rarity.
In this case, one of the girls’ parents were intolerant of misbehavior while the other set of parents took great umbrage at anyone who reported it. Teachers walked on eggshells with them for fear of the proverbial hotseat. The teacher in question, however, was nearing the end of her career and was not easily intimidated.
A “final straw” incident occurred one day and said teacher informed both girls that their parents would be informed. One begged her not to, saying that she would get into a surfeit of trouble. The other girl basically dared the teacher to tell her parents.
“You’ll get in trouble,” she said, “not me.” Children are very perceptive.
The teacher told both parents what had happened, pointing out that the bullying and teasing had gone on for some time. Sure enough, the latter set of parents became their daughter’s apologists. They denied that she was even capable of such cruelty, blamed her partner in crime for being a bad influence, and implied that the victim was her own worst enemy. They then complained to the principal, who insisted that the teacher to apologize to them. She refused and told the principal that he ought to be ashamed of himself.
The other girl’s parents also became furious, but at the right person. The next day, their daughter apologized to the teacher and to the victim – tearfully and in front of the entire class, no less. She broke off relations with her cohort and began making sincere efforts to make friends with her less advantaged classmate. She also mentioned to the teacher that her smart phone had been confiscated indefinitely.
The heroes in the story are the parents who held their daughter to high standards and forced her repentance. Along with a teacher who stood up for what is right in an environment where right and wrong have become confused, they are to be applauded for making the world a better place.