Q: Our nine-year-old won’t stay in his room. He’ll be in and out, to use the bathroom, get a drink, and other excuses. He also has been reading after lights-out, hiding his reading by using a smuggled flashlight or putting a pair of pants across the base of his door to block the light. When we catch him with a book, he becomes a drama king, claiming “It’s very hard to quit” and then promises to not do it again…only to be caught a half hour later.
We’re tired of him coming out of his room a lot and policing his reading. We’re also tired of having him cranky in the mornings because he stays up too late reading. How do we put a stop to this behavior?
A: I think nearly every parent has experienced the jack-in-the-box of bedtime. A child who continually bounces out of the room no matter what you say. When your words have no effect on a child’s behavior, that generally means it’s time to stop talking and take action.
Because you know how much he loves to read, you have the perfect opportunity to motivate him to stay in his room, lights out, when it’s bedtime.
First, while he’s at school or out of the house, remove all books from his room and place them temporarily in another part of the house.
Second, hang a necklace or other object that can loop over the door handle of his room. Put this on the inside door knob.
Third, allow him to take only the current book he’s reading to bed—check his room beforehand to make sure no contraband books have been brought in when you weren’t looking.
Fourth, put him to bed 15 minutes early but allow him to stay up reading for those 15 minutes. He’s allowed out of his room until his normal bedtime.
Fifth, at lights out, remove the book from his room. At this point, tell him that he may come out of his room only once for any reason, but he must bring you the object hanging on the back of his door. No object, no exit.
He will test you by coming out more than once. Simply send him back to bed with a firm, “Stay in your room.”
Put up a chart for 30 days on the fridge (blocks numbered 1 to 30). This is preparation for the consequences the next day.
The next day, when he reaches for a book, say (the more sorrowful the voice the better), “Dear, I’m very sorry but reading is off limits until you can stay in your room after lights out for 30 days. You’ll have one time per evening to come out.”
He will probably throw a fit, but just shake his head. If you find him reading a book, magazine, newspaper, etc., then simply take down the existing chart and put up a brand new one even if he’s on day 29.
Some might label this overkill and worry that it will make your son not like reading. However, when something is as dear to a child’s heart as reading is to your son, then removal of that object/pastime in the short run will make such an impression upon him, that you will likely not have to do such a thing in the future. He will remember this for a long time, and probably choose obedience in other areas as well to avoid a similar action in the future.