On Getting Your Kids to Stay in Bed

Some things are truly universal. Like kids that won’t stay in bed when it’s time to sleep, but repeatedly get up for drinks, bathroom breaks, random questions, stomach aches located in their elbows, etc. This aspect of children’s nature seems to be present no matter what culture you are looking at, usually accompanied by the raised eyebrows and sagging hopes of weary parents.

Cultures around the world have developed various strategies for dealing with this problem. Until recent times, it seems like one of the most common strategies has been to use the fear of some kind of monster as a method to keep those relentless kiddos in their beds. A child’s imagination is a powerful thing. And they are dependent on their parents for their primary understanding of reality. So it makes sense that some kind of bogeyman-by-night would be an effective tool to enforce bed times, a sort of evil cousin of the tooth fairy or Santa Klaus. Even more powerful would be if you could tie said creature to some kind of sound in the real world to add some “evidence” backing up this parental ruse.

In our corner of Central Asia, the creature of nightmares in fact turns out to be basically a giant rolling pin. Traditional roofs are made of packed mud and are flat. The way these roofs stay waterproof is by means of a large cylindrical stone, about the size of a big fire extinguisher, with a hole through its middle by which it’s fastened to a long wooden handle. After a rain, a man of the household would go up on the roof and use the Roof Roller to keep the mud roof compact, hence keeping it waterproof for the next rain. The sound of the Roof Roller as it is pushed and dragged across the roof would echo down into the house itself, providing the material needed to strengthen the grown ups’ sleep enforcement method.

“Can you hear the Roof Roller? It is on our roof, very close now. It eats children who do not go to sleep when their parents tell them to!”

The effect on the little ones is not hard to imagine. The crazy thing is that generations of children that grew up traumatized by fear of being eaten by the Roof Roller would go on to eventually be enlightened (“It’s… just a rolling pin?!”), then repeat the same method with their children, finding it quite funny, even. Humans are strange creatures.

It’s only in this generation, the first to be raised mostly with concrete roofs, that children are no longer terrified of the Roof Roller. Unfortunately, parents now have swung so far from the practice of their ancestors that they no longer enforce any bed time at all. They are amazed that our kids mostly obey us when it’s time for bed and only emerge from their blankets a few times for the things they “forgot” during the bedtime process. The most popular method of local child discipline currently is basically a form of anarchy – or you could call it kindergarchy* – where Central Asian toddlers are free to stay up as long as they want, drinking chai, screaming, and watching YouTube, until they eventually fall over, overtaken by sleep at last. At which point their relieved parents pick them up to plop them on their respective floor mattress. Given this philosophy, it’s not surprising that locals are having fewer and fewer children. Most of my peers grew up with large families, often having enough siblings to field a full soccer/football team. Young, shell-shocked families now are stopping at only one or two.

Needless to say, if your kids are having trouble staying in bed, I would not recommend scarring them with tales like those of the Roof Roller. Nor letting them run wild until they collapse from exhaustion at 2 a.m. There are better ways. How about some wise boundaries and kind, but firm enforcement over thousands of consecutive nights? It’s not easy, but in the end it is easier than what comes of children raised with no boundaries, or those raised by fear of bogeys and Roof Rollers.

Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.

Proverbs 29:17

*meaning rule by children, a truly terrifying state of affairs

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

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