Last night, she went right to bed. No power struggles. No tantrums. She didn’t turn the lights back on, she didn’t ask for fresh water in her cup, she didn’t ask for more hugs, she didn’t ask to be rocked again, she didn’t ask for another story, she didn’t leave her bed or her room. No one cried and no parent was announced to be unfavored or forsaken. She just kissed us goodnight and went right to sleep.
We were effusive in our praise this morning. It was literally the first thing her ears heard when she woke up. “We’re so proud of you! You did so good! You stayed in your bed and went to sleep without any trouble!”
I told her, “You went to sleep like a champ!”
“No,” she said, “I went to sleep like a dinosaur!”
Whatever. It was beautiful. Last night, as her mother and I sat at the dinner table, watching the door to her bedroom and expecting to hear its door crack so that she would come out and start the power struggle, we grew ever more amazed at the increasing likelihood that tonight, on this night of all nights, she would actually go right to sleep. When I finally whispered (for fear of waking her, I suppose) to her mother that she really went straight to bed, she said, “We need to reinforce this tomorrow.”
So we laid it on thick, and Curly Fries ate it up. I mean, ate. It. Up. You’d have thought it was her birthday again. She giggled and shrugged and repeated it back to us: “I went to bed like a dinosaur.” It felt supremely good to throw positive reinforcement at her with such recklessness.
We give her positive reinforcement all the time, in those little ways parents do: “Thank you,” “Good girl,” “Great job,” etc. She actually gets lots of it because there’s lots she does well, and it’s fun to praise your kids. But it’s even more fun to praise your kid when she so completely deserves it. I don’t feel like I often get a break from the cajoling and bribing and pleading and threatening, but this was just too sweet. Being able to watch her revel in our celebration of her good behavior was even better than enjoying the good behavior itself.
I’m sure it’s a temporary victory, but that’s fine. It was lovely, and we will get to do it again. Negative reinforcement works, too, as do positive and negative punishment (all blogs for another day). But the positive reinforcement: that’s just easily the most fun. Nothing makes me as a parent happier than just basking in my child’s goodness. But showering that back on her… well, that’s really something special.