I just road-tested a parenting book I haven't even finished. I'm 126 pages into ScreamFree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, so I'd absorbed enough of Hal Edward Runkel's theory to give it a whirl as I tried to put an overtired-to-the-point-of-hysterics Z to bed tonight.
"The only way to retain a position of influence with our children is to regain a position of control over ourselves."
Translation? Even though my three-year-old threw the fit to end all fits over Sleeping Beauty underpants, I was not to yell, threaten or force her to put on another pair, any pair, and get in the damn bed.
Instead, I explained the situation (both of her Sleeping Beauty undies were dirty and in the hamper) and asked that she pick another pair. When she refused, wailing "Sleeping Beauty...Sleeping Beauty" over and over, I gave myself a time out. I closed her door, walked downstairs and took a few deep breaths. I checked in on her every 10 minutes or so, asking if she was ready to get dressed for bed and and if needed any help. She was a sight to behold: sanding butt naked in the middle of her carpet, her face blotchy and streaked with snot and tears. Inconsolably crying out for her favorite licensed character underwear.
Finally, after a very long 30 minutes, the cries died down to hiccups, and I returned.
"Sleeping Beauty..." the howling began again. Runkel calls this "throwing down the gauntlet."
"A ScreamFree Parent never picks up a gauntlet."
I decided to try empathy (page 101). I told Z how sad I was that there weren't any more Sleeping Beauty underpants in the drawer. I told her I felt a little bit like crying too, and I asked her what she thought we should do since all of the undies were in the wash. She pointed to the hamper and I asked her if she'd like to wear a stinky pair. She nodded and I handed them to her. Heck, what's an extra 12 hours in a pair of panties when you're three years old?
I brushed her teeth and asked her to please use the potty. She refused.
Another gauntlet. This time I employed Runkel's choices and consequences speech (page 106). I told her she could use the toilet and I'd read her books or she could not use the potty and go to bed without stories. It was up to her. She crossed her legs, pulled up her pajamas and I put her to bed, whimpering. She cried "stories, stories..." for about 5-10 minutes before she finally fell asleep.
It was an exhausting and frustrating hour, but I'm glad I didn't lose control. I didn't really get exactly the compliance I was hoping for, but ScreamFree Parenting stresses that obedience is for dogs, growing responsible, loving adults is the purpose of parenting.
"Your number-one leadership role in the family is that of a calming authority."
By staying consistent, even-tempered and cool, I modeled good behavior. By leaving Z's room, I gave her space, and by empowering her to make her own choices, I showed her respect without giving up discipline.