What to Do When They Won't Stay in Bed

It's been an AGE since we dug something out of the old mailbag. Let's take a peek, shall we?

The Question:
Hello Kendra, I know you are very busy but I have a few questions from something on your blog. You said the kids can’t get out of bed during nap, how do you enforce this? What age do your children stop taking naps? Is there a recommended consequence post for 3-4 year old boys? My son will not stay in bed not even at night.
Thanks, Heather

The Answer:

Dear Heather,

My standard rule is that you have to take a nap until you start kindergarten. Frankie, who is my stinkerest kiddo, was required to lay down at naptime for an extra year, because I couldn't trust him to be up and about when I was napping. Lulu, who is very chill, has been allowed to stay up during naptime for the past couple weeks, even though she's only four. I determine when to let kids give up naps based pretty much completely on a child's trustworthiness, rather than sleepiness.

You can't die on every hill. Not every issue can be worth making a huge stink over. But you get to pick a few, and this one is probably the one toddler issue most important to me. Don't want to eat food? No skin off my nose. Want to eat dirt? That's your call. Want to wear a Tigger costume to the grocery store? No problemo. Get out of bed after I've put you down? Your world ends.

A three or four year old can understand rules and explanations and consequences and following through. So, that's what we do.

I set the rules: No getting out of bed at naptime until three-zero-zero. No getting out of bed at night time until it is morning and light out.

I explain: You are a growing boy. It's important for growing boys to get enough rest so their bodies can grow. It's also important for you to have a rest in your bed, even if you can't sleep. When you have a rest in the afternoon, it makes you a better behaved little boy in the evening. You are happier. When you are happier, our family is happier. It's important for you to stay in bed when you are supposed to stay in bed, because your sleeping time is when mom takes a nap, works on jobs around the house, etc. When you get out of bed, it means I can't do those things. I can't relax, if I don't know you are where you are supposed to be, if I'm worried you might be causing mischief. When mom can't rest, or can't finish the things I need to do around the house, it makes me a frustrated mom. And frustrated moms are not as fun for little boys.

I set the consequences: I am putting you to bed now. You've gone potty. You've had a drink of water. You have your buddy/doll/blanket/whatever. You may not get out of bed until time/morning. If you stay in bed until you are allowed to get up, you'll get a reward (a snack, a show, to play play dough, to go to the playground, I'd usually just have one reward). If you get up before you are allowed you will get a consequence (no treats, no screens, a spanking, I'd usually do multiple consequences).

Then I follow through: If I was trying to establish this behavior, I'd expect to give it my full attention for 3-10 days depending on where this particular kid falls on the chill to stinker continuum. I'd have the talk, reiterate the rules, then I'd put him down, close the door, and make sure to be where I'd see and hear immediately if he gets up. Then I'd give him the immediate consequence, a spanking, and I'd inform him that he's lost treats and screens for the day (or the next day). As many times as he gets up, he gets the immediate consequence, a spanking, and gets put back in bed, with as little talk as possible. Then after he's allowed to get up, I'd make a big deal of reminding him of the privileges he's lost. "No, no shows today. Remember, you got out of bed before wake up time? I'm sure you'll do better tomorrow." "No, we can't stop for ice cream today. Because you got out of your bed after mommy put you to bed last night. I'm sure you'll do better tonight." The more reminders of lost privileges, the better.

If he did NOT get out of bed, there is great rejoicing and awarding of rewards, and reminders of what a very good and grown up boy he has been.

A note on spankings, because I know people have very strong opinions on this:

If you don't feel comfortable using spankings, that's fine by me. We have been comfortable using them with our many kids, the oldest of whom is now nearly sixteen. We have seen only positive effects on the behavior of little kids, and no long term negative effects of any kind. In our house, we use spankings on the hand for lesser offenses and spankings on the bottom for larger offenses. I use my hand, and not other objects. If I'm especially upset about something, I try to wait until I've calmed down to spank.

We use spankings only on kids under the age of reason (usually about 7), except in very extraordinary situations. What I like about a spanking is that it's an immediate consequence, that doesn't require time or equipment. Timeouts, chores, loss of privileges, are all excellent consequences, except none of that can be used in the moment when we are at the dinner table, or it's 11pm and he's out of bed again. What I want is for my child to to understand that he needs to match his behavior to my words. Chill kids care about your feelings. They don't want you to be upset, and they don't want you to be upset with them. That's sometimes all the motivation they need. I have a couple chill kids who were maybe spanked once or twice, ever. It was for very grave offenses only, and it was very mortifying to them. I'm really careful with my words and my punishments with chill kids, who also tend to be more sensitive.

Stinker kids DO NOT care about what you say or what you feel. They don't care if you are upset or upset with them. I want my sinker kids to learn that it is in their own best interest to do what I say, because that's what motivates them. Physical punishment, undertaken in a calm, controlled manner, is a simple and effective way to get that point across. To my mind, it fits with God's plan for us and our bodies. It's not good for me to touch touch a hot stove, or eat a whole pie, so God made it physically uncomfortable for me to do those things. I try it, it hurts, so (hopefully) I learn my lesson and don't do it again. Narrowly, not getting out of bed, and broadly, listening to what mom says, can be accomplished in the same way. Stinker kids, in my experience, are not particularly mortified by words or punishments. Their spirits are not going to be wounded. Often, they'll act like they don't care one bit about not only your feelings, but also the spanking and other punishments. But I've found that with my kids, that's just a stinker kid scam. Not getting a spanking is better than getting a spanking. They know that. And all of my kids have eventually gotten with the program, believed that I meant what I said about staying in bed, and adjusted their behavior accordingly.

(For parents with a personal history of abuse or mental health issues, or anyone who isn't capable of spanking in a calm, controlled way, physical punishment is probably not the best option. I know there are other parenting philosophies out there with alternate strategies. One of those would probably be a better fit in those circumstances.)

Having little kids who stay in bed makes ALL the difference for the physical and emotional well being of our family. It means my kids are well-rested and I'm well-rested. It means I'm able to accomplish things I need to get done while kids are sleeping and so can be present for them when they are awake. It's a goal worth effort and sacrifice to achieve, IMHO.

Good luck, mama! Let me know if this didn't cover all your questions.


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Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

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