How To Make My 3 Year Old Go To Bed Would You Make Up Your Bed? Please!

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Would You Make Up Your Bed? Please!

“Am I a bad parent? Did I have parenting flunk 101? Do I need a remedial parenting skills class?”

These are some of the thoughts that entered my mind as I dealt with a pre-teen homework moment recently.

On the outside, my parenting skills as a single dad look good. My thirteen-year-old daughter does well in school, asks little, and is polite and capable. This is great, right? Of course it is! However, all this means little when an action, or lack thereof, is done so consistently that it reeks of something ugly and sinister.

Until recently, every morning without fail, my daughter and I engaged in the following conversation:

Me: “Make your bed as soon as you get out of it.”

Her: “Okay.”

Half an hour passes and just before checking to see if the bed has been made, the speech evolves into the following:

Me: “Have you made your bed yet?”

She: (With a bit of agitation) “Father, I heard you the first time!”

An hour passes and before it’s time for both of them to leave for work and school, I look into their room to discover something shocking. His bed is in the same state as it was when he woke up! Suddenly and without warning the conversation changes from an exchange between two people, to one in which he could be mistaken for a crazy person off the street. Instead of a dialogue between the two of us, now I am not aware that I am talking to myself.

Me: (With a bit of agitation while still trying to treat myself with dignity and respect) “Would you change your bed? Please!”

Her: Silence and no words come. What can be discerned are murmured rumbling sounds reminiscent of an earthquake tremor. All the while he makes his way into his room and throws the bed together as if he has now become the enemy of every nation fought in every combined world war.

Is it me or did I miss something? If I didn’t know better, one might think that I had now become the unconscious enemy and his bed was a replacement punching bag for me.

Although there were slight variations of the dialogue, this speech was a day of the last two years with a constant. Even saying PLEASE didn’t make the bed early.

After some time, self-reflection and introspection by me was in order. Maybe I expected too much from my daughter. Maybe my thinking about her doing this task every day without fail was asking a lot. Why should I think that a child who regularly maintains a grade point average of 3.75-4.0, reads a minimum of three books per month and is engaged in numerous extracurricular activities can manage such a task? “That’s it!” I thought. “That’s my expectations of her. They’re too much! Making her bed every day was more than she could handle.”

To verify my revelation I contacted the supreme expert. My mother. Unfortunately for me somewhere in the last thirteen years what was once an unwavering loyalty, my mother and I, was no longer in place. Now it was my daughter and my mother who had formed the ultimate alliance. Instead of my mother rallying around me, she did the exact opposite. Now he had left with the enemy. In fact, she told me this was payback and karma for all those times I didn’t make my own bed when I was younger. His exact words. “What goes around comes around.”

Although my mothers new alliance was not what I had in mind when I asked for her advice, it helped me see one thing. The longer I waited for my daughter to make her bed, the more she resisted. Not in a frankly challenging way. She just never got around to it. A passive aggressive mode seemed to have taken over. Then I would get angry and she would get angry, then we would both get angry because of a bed!

Maybe I needed a remedial parenting skills class. I had learned early on that waiting for something to happen provides reason to get angry when that thing doesn’t happen. Think about it. How can a person be angry, unless he first gave a reason? Until I developed the expectation that my daughter would make her bed every day, there were days when I didn’t even notice her bed. But once I expected it to do, I noticed it every day. Unfortunately for my daughter when she made her bed I said nothing. No positive reinforcement. Why say anything when this is what you should do? When she didn’t, however, I became angry and had no problem letting her know.

But I had it backwards. I had to reinforce the positive action of making his bed, and minimize the negative when he didn’t. This new answer changed everything. When I started to reinforce his positive moments of making his bed, the strangest thing happened. Plus he started making his bed! The more he minimized those moments he didn’t, the more he made his bed! It was a win/win.

The positive reinforcement was a direct result of letting go of my expectations. Now that I have released the expectation, the bed is made much more than when I had it. It has not become everyday, but it is much better. Plus I no longer get frustrated or angry because I’m no longer right. Fortunately for me, the stress associated with the “Would you make up your bed please!” situations is now a thing of the past.

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