An amazing thing happened in my house last night. I was out for the evening, and I came home to find a tired but relatively cheerful wife and three sleeping children. This is what I would call an excellent outcome for a nighttime routine executed with only one parent.
But that wasn’t the amazing part. That was excellent, but not necessarily amazing. What was amazing was my wife’s take on it. She said, quote, “The kids were difficult tonight, so I had to be extra creative.” AMAZING! Did you hear that? She did not say “the kids were difficult tonight and I totally lost my cool,” or, “the kids were difficult tonight so I had to punish them,” or even “the kids were difficult tonight but I somehow managed without losing my temper.” No, she reacted to the challenge by hitching up her proverbial pants and being “extra creative.”
My wife recognized a vital parenting truth: kids are difficult sometimes. This is natural, normal, even desirable. There is such a thing as a child who is “perfect” – always obedient, always in line, always pleasant. These children usually do not fare well in the long term, because they are suppressing something. Testing boundaries is an important part of their childhood and an important part of growing into adulthood.
Expecting children to act out is therefore a sensible approach. Expecting 100% compliance is not. When my wife was faced with disobedience, she did not get angry. She accepted is as a given part of childrearing, and she responded accordingly. She could have yelled, screamed, even hit. These might have worked, but they tend to lose effectiveness over time (to say nothing of the unwanted side effects).
Instead, she took it upon herself to be creative, to find a fun and connecting way to engage the kids to do what was needed. In this case, the resistance came around the time for getting into pajamas. She came up with a game that not only got them involved, but also used up the leftover energy that was keeping them from being ready for bed. To wit: she invented Pajama Tag. In Pajama Tag, Mommy is “it” and every time she catches a child, that child removes an article of clothing, or, once having reached Stage Naked, puts on an article of nighttime clothing. It’s brilliant! And it worked! (This may be obvious, but if your kids are already preteens or older this is probably not a good game for you.)
This is parenting done right. When things go wrong, be creative. Find ways to engage the kids that are fun and not coercive. Distract them (and yourself) from the conflict of interests and play a game. Does it always work? No – nothing always works. But it sure is a heck of a lot more pleasant than yelling and screaming – for them and for you.
P.S. I just want to point out that another great way to raise awesome children is to marry my awesome wife. But that is, fortunately (for me) or unfortunately (for you), not a viable option at this time.