Sometimes when I put my kid to bed, she isn’t in the best mood. Usually it is because I am making her go to bed at a reasonable hour because she has to get up early for school, but she doesn’t always understand that. “You’re mean,” she tells me. “I was watching my favorite show.”
To which I reply, “Yes, I realize that. But it’s a school night and I would not be a good parent if I let you stay up until midnight watching Teen Beach Movie for the 137th time. Now, go to sleep or I’ll sell the TV on Craig’s List.”
It took me a while to figure out that I needed an alternative to arguing at bedtime, but I think I finally have it mastered, and I wanted to share it with you here.
The other night I told my daughter to tell me five things she was thankful for that day. “Tell me five good things that happened to you today, or five people who were nice to you,” I prompted.
“Nothing,” she replied. “Nothing good happened.”
“Oh, I’m sure if you think hard enough you can think of something,” I assured her. She stared into the darkness of her bedroom. I assumed she was thinking so I sat patiently on the edge of her bed and waited.
After a long pause, my daughter announced, “I am thankful for my teacher. She was nice today.”
“Great!” I coached enthusiastically, “What else?”
“I am thankful for my friend, Mia who shared her snack with me because I was still hungry after I ate mine,” Antonia said. Now she was holding up two fingers and telling me, “That’s two. I have three more things.”
She went on to tell me about other people (and animals) in her life for whom she was thankful – grandparents, her dogs, another friend from her new school – and as she told me about each one, she counted down on her fingers and smiled. Even in her dark bedroom I could see the smile broadening across her face as she announced each reason to be thankful.
I smiled too, and realized that I was helping my daughter change her attitude and go to bed happy instead of annoyed with me. It put her life into perspective in a simple and tangible way that she could understand and in a matter of minutes, her frustration with bedtime turned into a time to give thanks.
“I am thankful for you, Mama,” she said for number five. She was looking at me and smiling. “You are a good mama.”
We hugged and I kissed her forehead.
“I’m thankful for you, too, Pumpkin,” I told her. “Sweet dreams.”
“You too,” she told me. And we both felt better.