Friday, September 2, 2011

A Wrinkle turns into a Meltdown

One of Wife's best friends, Rosie visited this evening. After playing with JD and Toodles for a while, they became rowdy and irritable. It was clearly time for bed.

I pulled the plug abruptly and made them say good-night without a warning. There was dissention in the ranks. Trudging on, I grabbed Toodles and put her in bed, then came back for JD and brought him up. We did our in-bed routine ("Twinkle Twinkle," "Jingle Bells," "Goodnight Moon.") Then I said good-night.

Toodles was complaining fiercely from the moment we made a move to go to bed. Then we couldn't find her "Bunny." Then she didn't want a blanket. Then she did. Then she didn't want this pillow, she wanted that one. I helped her while singing the songs and telling the story, then I walked out. As I did, they began calling for "Mommy."

Usually, we all go upstairs together, read a story or two in our bed, then they kiss Mommy good-night, and I do the in-bed lullabies. Going straight to bed from the living room and without Mommy was a big change for them and they were not happy about it. When I came downstairs, Wife asked what the problem was. I dryly replied that there was a wrinkle in their routine. Mommy replied that we should just stick to the routine. I rebutted that we should stray from the routine more often.

When is routine too routine?

The best thing about routine is that there are clear expectations and a lack of the unknown. Routine is comforting. But routine can also fail to allow for improvement, creativity, or finding something new.

In our brief discussion upon returning from putting the kids to bed, I recalled a story from seventh grade. The whole grade went on a two-night sleep away excursion to Wisconsin. One boy became so distraught on the first night that his parents were called and picked him up at midnight or later. While I had no evidence to support, I theorized that he had had few, if any, experiences sleeping away from home and that any time when it came up and he showed anxiety, his parents excused him.

While a routine and a schedule have the similar quality of alleviating the fear of the unknown, they are two very different things. A routine is something that is done on a regular basis in a similar fashion each time. Like showering or putting clothes away. A schedule is a list of events that will take place in a certain order.

Why am I comparing them? Because I believe that many parents use routine as a schedule. Doing the same things in the same way day-in and day-out. Having a schedule, in my mind, allows for creative imbalance.

Routine is comfortable for the parent as well as for the child or children. There is little thought that goes into routine. Once it is established, following it takes little effort. And there is little friction. That is probably the more important reason. Nobody likes screaming children. And they will scream if they don't get what was requested. I try to tell JD that there was a time when he hadn't seen Finding Nemo, and that when I told him I was going to play it on TV the first time, he resisted. Now, it's one of his favorite movies.

Is there any utility from routine? Absolutely. I surmise that a common threat between successful individuals is being anal in their routine. Having a routine takes the thought out of the mundane and allows for creativity and production in the same time space. At home, a morning routine can allow the family to move from pajamas through breakfast and preparation for the day. Have a routine for the way you get in and out of the car or for cleaning up toys.

Routine is a problem when deviating from it causes a disproportionate amount of stress. Having a meltdown because a certain story wasn't read at bedtime or because there wasn't a certain type of cracker for lunch is not healthy. It is mental weakness. And, please, do not give me some line about them being babies. They are little people. How many adults do know who get rattled for proportionate reasons? I'm sure you and I can find things about ourselves in this way. But do you melt down when there is a problem, feigning reason for screaming and tears, or do you get frustrated, then move to reason and solve the problem?

Make alterations to your routines part of your schedule. I believe that, like sleep training, a rough patch will lead to smooth sailing.

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