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Explore “Consequences vs. Punishment” with host Xan Holston

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

At HelloJoey, many of us are parents just like you – and we often learn along the way as we work with our team of researchers and experts to create our kits. Here, host Xan Holston shares how he used some of the insights he picked up while putting together his latest kit, “Consequences vs. Punishment,” to get to the root of his daughter’s bedtime blues (and make his life a little sweeter in process).

You know how hard it can be to stop your kid from doing something that you’ve asked them to stop doing over and over again? Of course you do.

We gently correct them. We appeal to logic and reason. Sometimes we plead. We put our foot down. Maybe we threaten punishments. We really put our foot down. No, really, that’s it. I’m serious! And yet without a solid plan, grappling with discipline issues is like wrestling with a pile of eels.

In my role as host, I work with dedicated researchers at HelloJoey HQ. I read the relevant books, interview experts and specialists and talk to parents about what works and doesn’t work for them – and you know what? Even with an embarrassment of riches, it’s still hard to break old parenting habits.

One of the joys and frustrations of doing this work is that I’m forced to constantly challenge my assumptions and try things that seem counterintuitive to me. Learning on the job forces me to suppress some of my instinctual reactions and actually apply the ideas I talk about to my own parenting. With this last kit, I had to reconsider how I dealt with “problems” with my seven-year-old daughter and then try some of these concepts in action.

One recurrent problem – and by recurrent, I mean that it was happening about eight times per night, every night – was that after we went through our whole bedtime routine, she would appear in the living room to say that she couldn’t sleep for one reason or another.

Our bedtime routine is what I assume is a pretty typical routine: I harass her to hurry up as she slowly PJs up and gets her teeth brushed; I read a couple of chapters in a book; and the rest is wrapped up with song, water, hugs, kisses, lights, “Goodnight!”

I love this routine. You know what else I love? The quiet time afterwards where I get to decompress from my day.

BUT…you know that unmistakably loud silence of a child trying not to make any noise at all?

“What are you doing up?”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Honey, I just left your room 30 seconds ago. Of course you can’t sleep. You got out of bed literally moments after I shut your door.”

Did you know this kind of logic frequently fails to make much of an impression?

“You’re just going to have to try to harder to sleep then,” I’d say. Thus sent back to her room, a few minutes later we’d do it all over again. And again. Eventually her non-sleepingness would awaken the slumbering giant in me, whose massive foot would come crashing down on the floor. Sometimes this led to tears; it almost always led to me wishing I could find a better way to resolve the problem.

Enter collaborative problem-solving. I’d already been using the logical consequences I was learning about to pretty good effect, so what would happen if I tried to give her the power to come up with a solution (mostly) on her own?

I chose a time when we were both in a good mood to try it out.

I laid out my problem with her getting up again and again: “When it’s bedtime, that means it’s your time to rest so you’re ready for the next day. It’s also my time to relax and have some space all to myself. I make sure we get all this together time getting ready for bed with books and cuddles and songs, so it’s frustrating when I do my part and then you don’t do yours.”

I asked her what’s going on with her at bedtime – what is keeping her from going to sleep – and encouraged her to share any and all ideas about what it might be.

And I just listened.

Then I asked her to come up with ideas about what we could do to make going to bed easier.

And I listened some more.

After she laid out her side, one thing became apparent: She wanted to have some of that space to herself that I was getting. While we had a set routine, she really wanted some space where she could read a bit by herself– or draw, maybe.

This was a far cry from the usual complaints of “I can’t go to sleep,” “It’s too hot in here,” or, worst of all, watching her “um” and “well…” her way through making up a reason on the fly.

Now, for me, it’s really hard to find fault with that desire. Who doesn’t want a little space where they don’t have to deal with their “housemate,” little or big?

After a short back-and-forth about how much time she would get; we settled on 15 minutes. This privilege of post-bedtime reading came with the recognition that when we get ready for bed, we’re both fulfilling parts of a promise to work as a family. She gets ready for bed in a timely manner (of course there’s always room for some goofing around here), and I do the books, song, and all that love and cuddle stuff.

That part will always happen. I’m not withholding affection, and I’m not using her bedtime routine as a leveraging tool (though sometimes I make “threats” about skipping books if she doesn’t get ready because, hey, I’m human).

But the last part, her time reading by herself, is dependent on something. If she wants to have that time, then she has to be responsible for upholding her end of our bargain.

What can I say? It’s worked out really well so far. Right now, I’m all alone on my couch writing this while eating ice cream. And her? She’s busy working on her literacy skills totally unaware that I’m sneaking a second dessert.

Want to hear more from Xan and learn how “Consequences vs. Punishment” can help your family? Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.

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