- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

My sons are 4 and 2. After lunch, I put the younger boy to bed for a nap, wait until he’s asleep and then put the older one down for a nap as well. The problem is that when I take the older boy upstairs, he raises such a ruckus he often wakes his younger brother and I have to start over from square one.

If I punish him by, say, taking away his favorite blanket, he begins to throw a full-blown fit. I am fine with letting him work through the fit on his own, but that wakes his brother, and around and around we go. I usually end up promising we’ll do something special after his nap, and that generally calms him.

Do you have any ideas on how I can get off this merry-go-round?

A: To get off a merry-go-round of the sort you describe simply requires that you get off. That may sound redundant, but your mistake is thinking you must solve the problem to get off the merry-go-round.

I’m saying you have to get off the merry-go-round to solve the problem. In so doing, you probably will have to sacrifice your younger child’s nap for up to a week before the merry-go-round stops turning, but I see no other way to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Sit Mr. Disruptive down before his next nap, after his younger brother has gone to sleep, and say something along these lines:

“It’s time for your nap. I’ve decided that you can throw a fit if you like. I’m not going to try to stop you, so you have my permission to throw the wildest, loudest fit you’ve ever thrown. Scream and yell like someone is hurting you if you would like. If you wake your younger brother, however, you will have to stay in your room for the rest of the day and go to bed right after dinner. Do you have any questions? No? Then let’s go.”

Without further ado, take him upstairs, put him down, give him a kiss, tell him you love him and walk out of his room without a look back. If he begins to scream, and he probably will, keep walking. If his younger brother wakes up, tend to him in whatever way seems appropriate, but do not pay the least bit of attention to the dramatics coming from the other room.

When Mr. Disruptive’s nap time is over, and whether he has gone to sleep or not, simply tell him he woke his brother and remind him of his punishment. That undoubtedly will trigger another fit, in which case, you should keep repeating this mantra: “This too will pass, this too will pass, this too will pass.”

In any case, you absolutely must stop negotiating with him when he starts his meltdown, by which I mean you must stop threatening, promising, persuading and so on.

The three keys to the success of this venture are that you (1) inform him in advance of the new rule, (2) make no attempt to stop his fit once it starts and (3) follow through nonchalantly. As I said, this may require that you sacrifice the younger one’s nap for a few days, but the price will be well worth paying in the long run.

(By the way, this same “formula” works quite well across a broad range of discipline problems.)

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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