Number 6 and Number 7 share a room. And every night, we have the same routine at bedtime.
I read them a story, and then I lie down in their beds with them and sing them each two songs while I rub/scratch their backs.
Usually we do things in the same order.
I sit on Number 7’s bed to read the story. Next I sing and rub/scratch Number 7’s back. Then I go to Number 6’s bed and do the same for him.
Two nights ago, both of them were super tired. And when they are exhausted, that often results in drama.
So after we finished our story, Number 6 was lying on the floor and was too tired to get up off the floor.
I didn’t feel like dealing with an epic meltdown, so I picked him up and plopped him on his bed.
I dropped him (on purpose) so he bounced a little. He thought that was funny. He laughed.
I went to sing Number 7 her songs, and Number 6 started making super loud noises just to be a pain in the ass.
This annoyed the shit out of Number 7.
I said to Number 7, “Maybe I should sing to Number 6 first so he quiets down. Then I’ll sing to you.”
“NO!” she said. “ME FIRST!!!”
(She was justified in her protest. I was only asking to sing to Number 6 to get him to shut the hell up, and I was reinforcing his annoying behavior. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I certainly see it now.)
“ME FIRST!” yelled Number 6.
“NO. ME FIRST,” Number 7 yelled.
Ugh. I had gotten myself into a jam.
I found myself trying to reason with the two of them and come up with a solution, but they were not really being reasonable.
Then I pulled my head out of my ass.
I reminded myself that here I was again, attempting to negotiate with a headstrong, opinionated and exhausted five and six-year-old. Plus I remembered that my goal is not to solve their problems for them. It’s for them to come up with solutions together so I’m not constantly playing referee and breaking up arguments and fights.
It wasn’t going to end well if I came up with the solution. Someone would have a freak out and feel like they “lost.” And they’d be right.
So very calmly and quietly, I said to the two of them, “I’m confident you can come up with a solution you both agree on. If you can do that in less than ten minutes, I will come back into your rooms and sing your songs.”
And then I left the room and walked downstairs.
About 30 seconds later they both came down the stairs.
“We agree on a solution, Mom!” said Number 7. “I’m going first!”
“Great!” I said.
“NO WE DIDN’T!” yelled Number 6. “Number 7 just came downstairs and said that!!!”
So I sent them back upstairs.
They came down two more times. Both times Number 7 said the same thing and so did Number 6.
I explained to Number 7 what agree meant.
They went back upstairs a third time. When they came down the fourth time, Number 7 said, “Okay, Mom! We figured it out. Number 6 can go first tonight, and I’ll go first tomorrow night.”
Number 7 was happy. Number 6 was happy. There was not a single freak out or screamfest.
“That is some good cooperating,” I told them.
We all walked upstairs, they climbed into their beds, I sang them their songs, and they went right to sleep.
Yes, it took them about ten minutes to work it out so they were up a few minutes later than I would have liked.
But if I had gone the old route, the one that comes naturally to many of us, the do-it-the-way-I-tell-you-to-or-you-will-never-get-a-song-or-use-technology-again route, there definitely would have been meltdowns and hysterics. They would have been awake way more than ten minutes past their bedtime. And while I often just want to get them the f*ck into bed, I really don’t want them to be upset and all worked up before they go to sleep.
I want them to have a nice, peaceful, calm experience before they fall asleep.
So that mission was accomplished.
Plus, last night when it was time for bed Number 7 said, “Mommy, remember… Tonight I get the song first!”
There was no protesting by Number 6 because he had been part of the solution and decision making process the night before.
Tonight, in order to head off any problems at the pass, I’ll give them time to come up with a plan that they both agree on moving forward. It might go really smoothly. It might not. But the more opportunities I give them to figure this stuff out on their own, the more I’m helping them develop those characteristics I am hoping they possess when they are older.
The next time you find yourself approaching a power struggle or a refereeing scenario with your kids, keep this in mind.
Putting the decision making and the problem solving duties on the kids rather than on yourself doesn’t just take you out of the equation. It gives the kids some control over the things that are important to them, and it also helps them practice some of the valuable life skills we all hope they have by the time they leave the nest.
Plus it reduces your desire to gouge your own eyeballs out night after night.
And that’s definitely pretty high on the priority list for me as well.