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9.05.2012

Getting Kids to Sleep

This morning there was an interesting story on the news about kids and sleep.

Apparently getting kids to bed is such an issue that parents feel the need to medicate.  No news there- the controversy over the use of Benadryl as a sleep aid in kids has been going on for years.  But now parents are turning to another over the counter medication to help their kids sleep- Melatonin.


I say whatever.  At least Melatonin is a little more natural than Benadryl.  I know from my own experience that Melatonin often looses effectiveness with time, so I wonder what those parents are going to do when the Melatonin stops working.  And there are no long term studies that show the effects of Melatonin (a hormone) on kids.  So yeah, if you want your kids to be the guinea pigs, go ahead.

In all fairness though, the mom they interviewed on the news this morning who is giving her kids Melatonin has a child who is mildly autistic, and I understand there is a range of problems that come with parenting an autistic child that I will never... well, understand.  And sometimes, as a parent, you have to do what you have to do. 

Yes, I'm sounding wishy washy so far, but I'm getting to it.

What really bothered me about this report was the newscasters and the "experts."  They weren't in favor of using medication to help kids sleep (good), but they didn't talk at all about behavioral methods to help kids sleep, instead advocating bribery (bad!).

I hate bribery.  It is, in my opinion, the downfall of modern parenting.  We  know we shouldn't spank anymore (which, don't get me wrong, I agree with), but we don't know what to do instead, so we bribe. 

What's wrong with bribery?  It sets a horrible precedent.  You bribe your kids once to do something you want them to do, and from that moment on they expect SOMETHING when they do ANYTHING, even everyday things like cleaning up and going to bed.  But do you get a treat or a prize every day when you do the dishes or the laundry or clean up or mow the yard?  You don't.  Those are your responsibilities, you just do them because they give you pride in a job well done and the pleasure of an ordered environment.

Children should learn to find similar fulfillment in their everyday duties.  They should make their bed because it makes them feel proud and because they enjoy a clean, neat looking room, not because you offer them a treat for doing it.  It is far more effective to outline behavioral expectations and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.

Using consequences can look a little like bribing in reverse.  Here's an example, and why it is not the same as bribing.  During the summer, we tried to do at least one fun thing a week (trips to the zoo, the science museum, etc).  But my kids knew that we would only do this fun activity if they did their chores and met behavior expectations.  But it's not bribing, it's removal, because instead of saying "if you clean your room, we'll go to the zoo" you're saying "we're going to the zoo this week, but first we have to do our chores- we do our work before we have fun!"  This, coupled with natural consequences at home, is a far more effective method of shaping your children's behavior than bribing.

And it's also important to remember to encourage that feeling of pride.  When they make their bed, don't go over and remake it because they didn't do it just right- take a look at that bed and say something like "wow, I can see you really worked hard at that!"  That provides honest feedback (ie you didn't say "that's the best bed making job I've ever seen"- that would be lying, and I don't advocate lying, kids eventually figure out when we lie to them and that makes them begin to loose value in what we say) and encourages them to feel good about what they do.

The same applies to bedtime.  Using behavior expectations coupled with a bedtime routine can be far more effective in the long run than bribing.

Our routine has always been simple, because complicated routines are more difficult to maintain- snack, brush teeth, bedtime prayers, and then bed.  Now that school has started and there is a little more prep to do pre-bedtime, Izzy has a laminated checklist (with pictures and words, since she's learning to read but not fluent) that she has to complete each night before she brushes her teeth- it includes packing her lunch (with my help), packing her backpack, and picking out her outfit for the next day.  This gives her ownership of the process and encourages independence, and on evenings when I'm not home there is no ambiguity about what needs to happen.  And the consequences of not doing these tasks are obvious- not packing her lunch means school lunch (she's not a fan...), and not picking out her clothes means a more stressful morning.

I'm going to stop there- I know it gets boring when I go all child development on you:)  But feel free to ask any questions if you want me to clarify anything.

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