We once fostered a kid who didn’t go to bed.
Well, at least not willingly.
Every routine, every trick, every approach led to meltdowns, anger, destruction and frustration.
The kid wasn’t too happy either.
Everything that had worked so successfully, more or less, with our birth kids was like spitting at a wasps nest. Actually, it was more like licking a wasp’s nest.
My wife and I tried the tag team approach, and I was on.
I began the routine at the normal time.
The bath, the story, the snack, the tucking in, the endless, endless reassurance that I was nearby if I was needed.
I tiptoed downstairs, looking for some quality TV time.
Then came the inevitable thud as the kid climbed out of bed, plodded down the stairs, appeared at the lounge door and announced that they’d been to bed, didn’t like it, and wouldn’t be going again.
It was a Thursday, a Europa League night, and I spent the whole of the first half trying to get the kid back out of the lounge, across the hall and to the bottom of the stairs.
By the end of the second half we’d got onto the first stair.
We made good progress in Extra Time, and had reached that bit on your stairs where there’s a mini landing and you turn left.
At this rate of progress, I’d calculated he’d be back in his room by the second leg in two weeks time!
It wasn’t going nearly that well.
I then made a classic Foster Carer’s error.
I tried a traditional parenting approach!
‘If you don’t go to bed right this minute young man, there’s going to be a consequence!’
‘Like what?’ He said back to me.
‘Well, I don’t know, but you won’t like it. You mark my words!’
He stared at me.
‘What are you going to do to me that hasn’t been done before?’
He wasn’t defiant, he was just asking a very very pertinent question.
I wouldn’t tell you his history, even if I knew it, but it was clear to me that no consequence, no sanction, no chastisement, no matter how draconian would have any influence on his behaviour.
I don’t think the promise of a reward would have worked either. I could have go online and bought him a trip to Disneyland, Florida, and I think he’d have just stared back at me.
I changed tack.
‘That’s a very very good question. You’re right. You’ve had a difficult life. Here’s a plan. I’m going to sleep. I’m going to give you an iPad. I’m sure you’ll find something to watch, just do it quietly if you can’.
I got him a fully charged iPad and handed it over.
I went into our room and lay down next to my wife.
‘What have you done? You’ve given in. He’ll want to do this every night.’ She whispered frantically in my ear.
‘I know, but I had nowhere else to go. I was out of ideas.’
A couple of minutes later the young man’s voice called out.
‘Goodnight. I will see you in the morning.’
This became our new routine.
Instead of hours of arguing, cajoling and shouting, the kid went to his room with a loaded iPad and we didn’t see him until the morning.
He was getting about the same amount of sleep.
We got our evenings back, and our house became calmer.
We’d just given him a little bit of control.
He was 7.
His favourite programme was Tracey Beaker.