Getting in touch with your inner parent.

Keeping an eye on kids and parents.
May 30 2003 10:33 AM

Oh, Behave!

Getting in touch with your inner parent.

(Continued from Page 3)

Dear Mad in Manhattan,
You've raised the two parenting topics—"bedtime issues" and discipline—that frenetic working mothers and fathers consider hottest these days (perhaps unaware that experts and parents have worried throughout the century about whether or not to rock the baby and whether or not to spare the rod).

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Sandbox will start by echoing with Dr. Spock's familiar refrain: "When in doubt, consult your own doctor" or a professional who might be able to tell you whether your daughter is suffering from nighttime fears that go beyond a standard discipline problem. But Sandbox won't stop with that rather waffly response. She'll go ahead and do what she proposes you might try: Dip into the tough-talking "parent-centered" expertise that for decades has provided a complement to the "child-centered" perspective that you (and Sandbox) naturally gravitate to.

Ask yourself the counterintuitive questions that the brusque Bruno Bettelheim posed to parents he judged permissive. Does your naysaying daughter perhaps need a firmer sense of her own autonomy? And might more clear-cut authority from you, rather than simply more empathy, help her achieve it?

Then, to help you wield authority, try turning to one of the "disciples of discipline," as the current conservative brand of popular parenting gurus have been called. The in-your-face tone of John Rosemond's attack on parental wussiness may well grate—Because I Said So! is the title of one of his very successful books. But you don't need to become a by-the-book convert to learn something from the spirit of a Rosemondian remedy. (As Dr. Spock said, "Don't be overawed by the experts.") 

For a crisis like yours, he'd recommend something along these lines: Sit your daughter down and stun her with a new bedtime rule: Tell her that if she isn't lying in bed quietly, alone, by 8:30 p.m., she'll have no television, no computer time, and no ice cream for two weeks, and you'll add on a day for every night she disobeys. (The fine print is, of course, yours to determine—what hour, which privileges, how long, etc.—but the point is to be decisive and draconian.) Say you'll give her a night to show you that such an unfun arrangement won't be necessary. (Rosemond would probably skip this nicety and perhaps endorse a tactic you've ruled out: an I-mean-business, attention-getting swat.) When she says "No" and is still making scenes at 8:35 p.m., be as good as your word—which Sandbox guarantees you'll discover is very hard. But whenever you're tempted to give in, tell her—and yourself—"Sorry, I can't break the rule." Yes, you'll be an ogre, but also a good role model.

When you're at your wits' end, Sandbox thinks it may help—or at any rate, can't hurt—to think outside of your usual box.

—Sandbox