Expert Parenting Advice
Practical parenting tips and advice from experts around the world

Revenge bedtime procrastination

Why consequences and punishment are not as effective as you might think, and what to do instead to get your kids to cooperate.

This morning I woke up tired (again).

I know why.

You see, my problem is that once I put the kids to bed, I don't want to go to sleep myself. I want some time to do my own things. I want to read, or watch TV, or play computer.

But then I end up going to bed way too late, and I wake up tired and grumpy.

After doing some research, I found that this is actually a common problem for many people, so much that it has its own name: Revenge Bedtime Procrastination.

Wikipedia describes my situation perfectly: "Bedtime procrastination is a psychological phenomenon that involves needlessly and voluntarily delaying going to bed, despite foreseeably being worse off as a result."

But what really gets me is that even though I know the consequences of going to bed late (being tired and grumpy)...I still do it.

It is like the consequences of my actions don't really affect my behavior.

Thinking about this "paradox" a bit, I realized something: if consequences don't work for us adults, why do we then expect consequences or punishments to work for our kids.

We tend to think that we need consequences or punishment to be strict and enforce boundaries.

But when I spoke to Dr. Chelsey Hauge-Zavaleta, an expert in educational neuroscience and co-founder of Guiding Cooperation, for our book How To Get Kids To Listen, she said:

You can hold just as firm of a boundary with positive language as you can with threats, or with consequences, or anything like that.

So, I want to make sure that I’m always asking “What does this child need in order to move more easily through the morning? What kinds of experiences do they need?”

Not, “What kinds of consequences do they need to get out the door?” I’m just asking myself “Why this?”, and “Why right now?”, and “What do they actually need?” Do they need the home to be quieter? Do they need me to be closer? Do they need to do some of the getting ready in the evening? Do they need a picture board?

I just want to flip the frame, so it’s not like “They’re not listening.” It’s like, “Oh, we’re going to figure this out, but we might need to switch things up a little bit.” It’s usually more about the parent than it is about the child.

Dr. Chelsey Hauge-Zavaleta

Instead of focusing on what consequences your child needs in order to comply, instead try to think of what they need in order to cooperate with you.

In the interview with Dr. Chelsey, she shares a very simple technique, called Re-casting, that you can use to correct your child's behavior in a positive way.

Using this technique, you can deal with bad behavior without making your child feel bad, and without drawing attention to the bad behavior.

According to Dr. Chelsey, this Re-casting technique allows you to move away from nagging, and helps improve your relationship with your child.