Friday, February 6, 2009

The Hard Headed Child

My four-year-old has been confined to her bedroom for an all-morning time out. She is might ticked about it. Over the course of the last three hours, she has screamed, cried, kicked the door, and asked to come down more than once. I am standing my ground because I am mighty ticked, too!

G has, for at least the past two years, interfered with her older sister's sleep in one capacity or another, to the point of driving me insane. G is not a kid who needs a lot of sleep. M is just the opposite - 12 hours might be enough for her. But given the opportunity to play with her little sister, M will forgo sleep until she falls face forward on the floor.

They used to share a bedroom. But night after night, my husband and I found ourselves irritably stomping up and down the stairs, telling them to get back into bed and go to sleep. A 7:30 bedtime is all fine and good, but when your youngest is keeping your oldest riled up, and at 10:30 they are still not asleep, it's a problem. No amount of threatening, punishing, or wringing of the hands seemed to matter. So when M was about to start kindergarten, we decided the only reasonable solution was to separate them.

So a month later, M was in her new room, the walls painted a cheery pink, with her own space and an opportunity to get more sleep. G was alone in her room. Bedtime playtime was over and they were both asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed. Problem solved!

Until G, the ever-resourceful hard-headed child that she is, decided that the morning hours worked just as well for play. Being deprived of her sister at night was something she had to deal with, but by morning, she could generally wait no longer. So now, at 6 a.m., she was there, knocking on her sister's door to see if she wanted to play. M, who would not otherwise be awake, would then drag herself out of bed, get her wits about her, and then proceed to play full force with her sister.

And we, now downstairs, were also awakened early by what sounded like a heard of elephants about to come through the ceiling.

This new situation has been going on since last summer. Again, no amount of punishment, warnings, or outright threats have dissuaded G from waking her sister.

I suppose I should be grateful I don't have the problem many parents do - that of my kids coming into my bed at varying times of the night to sleep. My children, thankfully, have never been interested in spending time in our bedroom. But this waking the sister up issue has become my Everest. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I mind the two of them playing together. I don't. In fact, I'm very grateful they get along so well. I want them to be close. And I'm not trying to exercise heavy-handed total control over my kids. But M goes to school at 8:15 and doesn't get home 'til 4:15 - a really long day for a five-year-old kid who is on the young-side of the students in her class.

And so, this is why G is in her room. Previous punishments that included removal of privileges haven't worked. I simply don't know what else to do to get through to her. She certainly doesn't like being confined there, so I would check it off as a yes in terms of effectiveness. I know I will probably have to repeat numerous times until she gets the message. Hopefully she will, eventually, get that message and the fun involved will not be worth the punishment involved.

Given her personality, though, I know this is only one of many such battles I will fight with her. G is simply the type of kid for whom the reward is usually going to be well worth the risk and some day, she will be tasked with making her own decisions about what is worth it, and what is not. I know this will serve her well in life. But I hope my actions now will at least teach her later that her choices, all choices, involve the possibility of both a favorable and an unfavorable outcome and I hope she always considers both.

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