“Mommy, I’m scared.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“I don’t know.”
My eyes adjust in the darkness and I see the glow of the digital clock beside the bed: 3:12 am. The tiny pajama-clad figure whose face is only inches away from mine was tucked carefully in his bed a few hours before. What in the world could have awakened him?
“I don’t want this dinner. This dinner is yucky.”
“I don’t want to go to soccer practice. My tummy hurts.”
These are normal statements coming from a toddler or preschooler. When they happen once, we address them with love and empathy and go back to life as normal. But when they occur on a regular basis, we start to wonder what is really going on. When we are functioning in our well-rested, clear-headed, logical-thinking parenting mode (which may not come until after the toddler years are over), we can dissect the problem and address a solution based on our knowledge base. But what about when the problem doesn’t seem to have a “real” cause? When tummy aches are not from something our little one ate or drank, when middle of the night fears are not realistic, or when other tantrums or behaviors seemingly have no cause. Parents in these situations often try every possible solution until they are desperate for the issue to be resolved.
Ironically, there might be a solution that makes no sense at all but can bring peace (and a good night’s sleep) to weary parents and children alike. It isn’t logical, but fortunately it doesn’t require an expensive gadget, a trip to the store, or even a parenting book. It is simple, but the reason it eludes most parents is that it is not always easy to accomplish. Couple time. Yes, couple time.
“What is couple time?” you ask. The term “couch time” was coined by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo many years ago when they noticed many difficult issues with young children were solved by parents having consistent time together in front of their children. Trends on how to get your baby to sleep have come and gone, but the principle of parents showing their kids that everything is good with them as a couple is one that stands the test of time. Children crave security. In a world that is constantly changing, they overhear the news, the neighbors, and they are aware there are many things that are unsure. The one thing that brings them great peace is to know their parents love each other and care for one another.
You can do this preemptively as well as to troubleshoot a challenging issue with your child. Typically, when parents arrive home from a long day at work, they divide and conquer. Someone makes dinner, someone else plays with the kids or starts the bedtime routine. Mom and Dad are often in different rooms for much of the evening—except maybe for dinner—until the kids go to bed. So here is where the simple change can begin. Instead of going separate ways when the work day is done, parents sit down on the couch together (side by side, holding hands, just like when you were dating). No devices in sight—start by putting those on mute in a different room. Then talk to each other, not about schedules, appointments, and the kids. But about life, what’s happening at work, dreams and plans, future vacations. Happy stuff. Things that make them smile. Where are the kids during this time? Hopefully right there in the room. Yes, they have to be prepped to not interrupt, and they may need a special “couch time” basket of toys to entertain them during this time. But the point is for your children to see you—their parents—in a loving, kind interaction for ten or fifteen minutes.
If one spouse is traveling, it can be even more important to have this time together in front of the children. Instead of FaceTiming or Skyping the kids first, let them see Mom and Dad having a good conversation first. Letting kids know their parents miss each other and all is well in their relationship goes a long way to avoid discipline issues for the parent stuck at home. The side benefit of all these conversations is they help the couple have a chance to talk in the midst of a busy day and even improve their relationship. That’s something the whole family can get behind.
Told you it wasn’t logical. But it works. Try it for three or four days in a row and see for yourself. Nighttime issues disappear. Tantrums become less frequent. Complaints fade away—all because there is a visual reminder to your child that all is well in their world.