Will an Early Bedtime Conquer Bad Attitudes?

young boy glaring at camera

I had a couple of conversations with other moms recently that caused me to take a serious look at my expectations of the boys. In the first, my friend told me that her son couldn’t come over and play because he was staying home to do extra homework to improve his math grade. I mentioned that losing out on play time must be a tough lesson and would cause pain and gnashing of teeth.

“Oh no,” she said. “Boys with a bad attitude go to bed early. We don’t tolerate attitudes around here.”

Oh really? Boys with an attitude here have….bad attitudes. I tucked that into my brain to ponder for a bit.

Then yesterday at the store the cashier asked me if all 4 boys were mine. When I said yup, she explained that she had 4 boys as well and gave me their ages. The oldest one was 15, so I asked if they ever grow out of breaking everything in the house. I was mostly kidding, but she straightened right up and told me that no, her boys weren’t allowed to break things in the house.

I gave some kind of wimpy answer about how they’re not allowed to do that in my house either and slunk on outta the store. For the most part, my boys are very good, and most house breaking is accidental. On the other hand, they are really rough and the horseplay can get pretty crazy even though I routinely tell them to knock it off.

Both conversations got me wondering if my standards are too low. I listen to boys gripe about school and each other quite often…even daily…and I usually feel powerless to do anything about it. I’ve basically been just waiting for them to grow out of it. Perhaps that was the wrong approach.

Last evening I told the boys about the bad attitude = go to bed earlier thing and said we were going to try that. Sure enough, today The Mercenary and Captain Earthquake managed to be massively grumpy on a few occasions so I let them know that they’d be going to bed early tonight.

We don’t exactly manage a strict bedtime, and tonight was no exception. Even so, after the boys said their prayers, I sent the two to bed and TechnoBoy and The Manager out to the couch. That was when reality struck The Mercenary. When he asked in a quavering voice if the 2 blessed ones were going to be allowed to (gulp) watch televison, Hubby was right there with the remote.

I had only planned to just snuggle with them on the couch for ten minutes quietly and send them to bed, and the thought of adding insult to injury by turning on the TV seemed a bit much to me at first. But who am I to disagree with Hubby in front of the boys?

Both The Mercenary and Captain Earthquake were pretty offended by developments. We’ll see if the lesson sticks tomorrow.

Earnest Parenting: tips for parents of grumpy children.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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  • Michelle (beartwinsmom) November 28, 2007, 7:52 am

    OMG I would have loved to see the looks on their faces!!! I can see how they were absolutely floored by the new rule. How did it go with the other two?

    ~Michelle
    beartwinsmom.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • Jenny December 5, 2007, 3:50 pm

    well goodness, how do you “allow” or “not allow” little kids to break things? What, does she think you hand them expensive lamps and hammers and tell them to go at it?

    The idea of punishing an “attitude” really irks me. If a kid can’t even have a legitimate emotion, what can he have??

    Reply
  • Amy December 6, 2007, 1:06 pm

    Jenny

    There’s a big difference between having an emotion and using it as justification to behave badly. I get angry or upset or sad frequently over different events in my life. And there is nothing wrong with that. It would be wrong, though, to do or say something hurtful or to withdraw into my own silence, letting those emotions dictate my behavior.

    As the boys age, I expect them to take more and more responsibility for their actions. It may not be obvious to someone just reading my words and not seeing me in action, but I do gear those expectations to their ages. There is a different standard for a boy who’s 9 than one who’s 5. And a higher standard around here for adults.

    Also, I’ve found through difficult experience that if I don’t nip the pouting, whining, and frowning in the bud that it spreads and worsens into a downward spiral. Fast.

    Having the tool of saying cheerfully, “whoops, boys who are too tired to be pleasant must need to go to bed early” is a whole heckuva lot better than being actually punitive or getting angry or having the whole family be miserable. We had to have early bed times for 2 whole nights. 2. And now I simply have to mention the possibility and people get pleasant. It’s possible to be angry or in a state of dislike of an activity and yet control oneself at the same time.

    I’ve explained to the boys many times that I totally understand that they don’t like school sometimes, and they’re completely welcome to feel that way. (Heck, some days I don’t wanna do my jobs either.) However, they are expected to do their work and try to learn. If they’d give it a chance and work with me we could have a lot more fun. We’ve even had days to prove that. 🙂 Today has gone exceptionally well for example.

    Gotta run like super fast now, but will get to the rest of comments and also start putting blog posts up later today.

    Reply
  • Deanne December 6, 2007, 6:36 pm

    “In a nutshell, people whose lives are hard, boring, painful, meaningless—people who suffer—tend to resent those who seem to suffer less than they do, and will make them suffer if they can. People who feel themselves in chains, with no hope of ever getting them off, want to put chains on everyone else.” —John Holt, Teach Your Own, Introduction.

    From what little I’ve read of your blog, I can tell that your God is unmerciful, and unforgiving. Why else would you want to be that way to your children? Lucky for me and my children we know that God is more merciful and forgiving than we could ever be, but we sure do try! God gave us all free will, and I question why people feel it’s okay to deny children theirs. The only conclusion I can come to is that it is because that is how they were treated, so they feel it is proper to pass it on to their children. How sad that people refuse to use the brains that God gave them to be more creative in their child-rearing practices.

    Reply
  • Amy December 6, 2007, 10:10 pm

    Wow. That’s a lot of conclusions about me when we’ve never met in person. How sad when someone uses words to cut down and destroy instead of build up and edify.

    Reply
  • Deanne December 7, 2007, 6:59 am

    I doubt you’re “destroyed” by what I wrote. In fact, your reply was a self-righteous rebuke. You seem pretty secure in believing that God wants you to bend and break your childrens’ wills to meet whatever you “think” is right.

    Reply
  • Amy December 7, 2007, 7:59 am

    Lol. You’re right, I’m not personally destroyed. My reputation among members of the RadChristianUnschoolers….sounds like that’s not going as well.

    And yes, that was intended as a rebuke. Self-righteous? Maybe. How about stung? Would you speak to your children that way if they were doing something you believe is wrong? If so, that belies your claim to follow a loving merciful God.

    You came to my site and began attacking me based on one post. Come on, with all the children suffering abuse and starvation, slavery and persecution in the world, you’re upset because I sent my boys to bed early?

    3 unschoolers have commented on my site in the last few days. 2 of them have confirmed my less than positive impression of people with that label. And that really is sad.

    However, I’m done feeding trolls. Comment away, knowing that I will edit very little and your words are going to be out there for the world to see for as long as this site is active. I don’t feel a need to justify myself or attempt to prove to you that your conclusions are wrong. So enjoy them, and have a pleasant day.

    I do wish you the very best.

    Reply
  • Deanne December 7, 2007, 11:52 am

    I’m sorry that you feel “attacked” by my opinions. My children and I can discuss incompatible opinions without taking it personally. I try to give them the same respect all human beings deserve, which includes not looking at them in an unfavorable light if they view things differently than me. That is what I see lacking in your tales of your homeschooling. If they “whine” or “pout”, they are trying to express their feelings in a way that is unacceptable to you, and clearly unjustified by you. I see it as my role to help my children learn how to cope with all their emotions, even the “negative” ones, rather than teach them that their feelings must be masked by a face of “cheerfulness”. I can see that you would be good at teaching your children to be inauthentic, because you replies are a “mask” of goodwill.

    I have no problem with anyone reading what I wrote. In fact, maybe others will be helped by it. They may feel that they have to “rule over” their children because of the prevailing parental “wisdom” supported by your stories, but in their hearts they know that something is not right. Maybe someone will be able to discern that it really is good and right to listen to and respect their children. And in return, they will find their relationship with their children, and the children themselves, flourish.

    Reply
  • Karen December 10, 2007, 9:57 am

    The mom who told you she doesn’t tolerate attitudes at her house? What about when she is in a bad mood or her husband? Are they allowed to have attitudes? Or do they prefer to “pretend” to be happy and not express emotion?

    When my boys have emotions, we talk about it and I listen to their needs and we talk about it. Emotions are okay. I have not so good days myself when I don’t feel great.

    Have you read the book “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” by Naomi Aldort? It is a great book on gentle parenting. Another is “Connection Parenting” by Pam Leo. A third is “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn, though he does curse occasionally in it and is agnostic, so it is to be taken with a grain of salt.

    I’ve found so much more joy in our lives as I’ve read these books and thought about them, perhaps you might like them too.

    Reply
  • Amy December 10, 2007, 11:00 am

    No, I haven’t read those books but I’ll put them on the list to consider.

    When my boys have angry or upset emotions I ALWAYS tell them it’s fine to feel that way. You’re welcome to frown or say how you’re feeling. No problem. We can talk about it. We can describe what we don’t like and discuss whether there’s a better way to do things; if there is a better idea, we go with it. We talk about why such and such that they don’t like is happening and the reason behind it. Sometimes understanding why something is done a certain way makes it more palatable.

    It’s not okay, though, to let your emotions lead you to behave badly. We are an ordered society, and self-control is expected. Before everyone jumps on me, realize that my expectations are graded by the age of the individual. I expect a whole lot more from an adult than a child.

    You don’t know my friend, but no of course she’s not saying you can’t have a bad day or feel bad. I used a small example since it would take forever to tell you all about my friend and how wonderful and sweet she is. In the case of this post, “attitude” meant that the emotions were translating into behavior problems.

    Again, thanks for the book suggestions. I also appreciate the civil tone. Have a pleasant day.

    Reply
  • Karen December 10, 2007, 12:18 pm

    Thanks for clarifying. 🙂 I did not mean to put you on the defensive, but clarify what we were talking about. 🙂

    Early bed time is something we did for a long time. The book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy child by Marc Weissbluth is an advocate of it, and we followed it for a while and the kids have always been happy when they get their sleep.

    We’ve relaxed alot about bedtimes lately. My kids still get enough sleep usually, the reasoning though was b/c of a change in dad’s work schedule and getting enough daddy time in the evenings. We sleep in more in the mornings now, which is hard when we occasionally have some where to be early (we try to go to bed earlier the night before or we’re late), but the kids are doing okay.

    Anyway, I believe that getting enough sleep is a big factor in helping kids be happy individuals. Meet their needs – physical & emotional, and they thrive. I also believe some structure is helpful and good, (ie bedtime rituals) but being inflexible about it doesn’t work.

    Hope you update what the result of your experiment with bedtimes is. 🙂 Good luck!

    Reply
  • Amy December 10, 2007, 1:49 pm

    Funny you should mention bed times as a specific time. We don’t really have a set time at all. Hubby will often start with the ‘bednight snack’ around 7:30 or 8:00, but then we clean up rooms and play and pray and sometimes have long talks together, so they actually get into bed anywhere from 9:00 on. Last night I finished talking to the older boys well after 10:00 and they stayed up to listen to Adventures in Odyssey for another half hour after that.

    I try to get them to sleep in as late as possible in the mornings and keep my eye on their overall sleep hours. There are the occasional reasons to get up for outside activities just like you. In those cases I try to get them to bed a little earlier the next night if they haven’t gotten enough sleep.

    I had to do the ‘early bedtime’ thing two times. We just said “okay, you need 15 minutes extra sleep sweetie” to a couple of boys. Since then, I just have to ask if someone is too tired and needs to go to bed earlier and things improve. Again, I’m not asking for them to have a better day or stop feeling grumpy. Heck, Captain Earthquake had an awful morning yesterday, poor kid. So he spent worship time in his daddy’s lap and then I carried him to his little class instead of him walking on his own. Filled up his Love Bucket, as it were. He was definitely shorter-tempered all day but it never turned into a tantrum or rule-breaking behavior (like calling names or breaking things) so we lived and let live. And snuggled him to bed earlier last night. This morning he rumbled out of bed with a smile on his face.

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