I have read every parenting sleep book that has been published in the last 20 years. I’ve been told by neighbors, mothers, siblings, friends, and strangers why my children don’t sleep and how to make them miraculously nod off. But 11 years after the first insomniac was born, I’m still exhausted, as I am convinced he emerged from my womb with no need of sleep, and then his sister two years later with the same curse. I’m not sure how it happened, being that I’ve always needed eight hours of sleep to stay sane.
The last two months there has been a lot of cussing in our house after 8 p.m., when we begin the rituals. In desperation I headed to my shelf of expert advice to see if any nuggets in there would apply, or at least not nauseate me. I came away empty-handed. Great intentions. Perfect principles. Wise stuff. Just not going to work on my rebels, who defy traditional rules and procedures. So I’m back to threatening. However, threatening, itself, can be complicated, and deserves its own guidelines.
Here are my two cents on how to threaten effectively. These are not principles that will foster healthy sleep habits. They will merely get you a few days of sleep if you are like me, in the state of emergency. Experts aren’t big on Band-aids. I am.
1. Prep the threat. My fundamental mistake in releasing a threat is not being totally prepared. In an impatient huff, I might blurt out something stupid like, “If you don’t go to sleep, I’m going to … going to … going to …,” brainstorming about which option is best, at which point my two devious offspring start laughing. The result is that they do not take future threats seriously, and I have lost all negotiating power (which effective parents don’t need because they don’t have to negotiate with their kids) because I didn’t think through the bribe before opening my trap in a premature fit.
2. Specify the threat. Threats should be like legal documents. Hell, you could get out a piece of paper with all the specifications written down and, instead of them pinky-swearing, you could get a signature. The more detailed the better because kids who don’t sleep tend to be smart and manipulative. So when I take away the family iPad from my daughter, she finds a computer in the house and starts surfing YouTube or making videos of herself. When we take that away, she grabs one of our iPhones and downloads an app where she can try out new hairstyles on stick-skinny chicks. If she can’t find those, she’ll steal her brother’s iPod and start uploading photos to his Instagram. I should have stipulated that ALL electronics are banned, that she has to do something really radical like read a book or use pencil and paper and draw.
3. Time the threat. Just as important as the content of the threat is the delivery: in particular, when you deliver the threat. I’ve found that when my insomniacs are overly tired and irrational they can’t hear a word I say, even if I’m yelling. Therefore, it’s best to wait until breakfast, when I will say very calmly that they have lost electronics for the day or until they learn how to calm themselves down and go to bed without making visits to our room or to a sibling’s room in the middle of the night, sleepwalking, singing Macklemore’s song lyrics, “I’m gonna pop some tags,” or perfecting Anna Kendrick’s cup act in “Pitch Perfect.”
Threatening is not easy. So hopefully these guidelines assist you in reaching for a wide Band-aid and a few nights’ sleep before you have to come up with an entirely different set of new threats. Good luck!
Originally published on PsychCentral.com