Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cryin' Babies Go to Bed

Hey guys, it's me Frankie.

this isn't me, but I like him

You may remember me from such posts as:

An Open Letter to the Church Lady Who Yelled at My Mom 


What Cranky Frankie Taught Me About God 

(my Mom wrote that one, but it's about me!)

So when Adam from Equipping Catholic Families asked how our family deals with cranky kids . . . I knew he had come to the right place.  My family has a system for just about everything.  And our policy on crankiness is that it's not allowed.  It's not just crankiness, either -- in our family unhappiness is not tolerated. It's against the rules.

My folks agree with this quote by Abraham Lincoln (maybe):
"People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be."  
And since, in my mom's experience, she's always been able to convince her kids that being happy is a lot more fun than the alternative, it's always worked out great.  Of course, that was before she met me . . .  but more on that later.

The main parts of the policy, from what I can see are:


My parents do not want their kids to react to challenges, or difficulties, or unfairness, or even injury, like this:

Ever.  (Did they ALL get poked in the eye?)  For one, it's un-American.  For another, it's not necessary.  Yes, as a kid, my first reaction to challenges, or difficulties, or unfairness, or injury, is to f-l-i-p out.  And then to get increasingly louder and more upset and more flipped out.  And then, in the midst of all the flipping out, to notice something I'd rather be doing, stop flipping out, and go do it.

My mom noticed that.  So now it's not allowed.  Even if we get hurt.  If we do get hurt, we are supposed to make this face:

and say "ouch, ouch, ouch."  Then we are reminded that it is hurting less and less, and off we go.  (It works so well, that my dad even pointed out to my mom that while he was filling in admit forms, she was pacing the hallway of the hospital in labor saying "ouch, ouch, ouch.")

And now that they're used to doing it that way, my brothers and sisters mostly don't get upset at all by life's little challenges or difficulties or unfairnesses (well, maybe not, they still do have trouble with that one) or injuries.  They just grimace and get on with their lives.  Not me, I still mostly pitch a fit, but more on me later . . . 


For grownups and school-age kids especially, it's really hard to stay cranky when faced with the reality of how good you really have it.

My parents remind us all the time how blessed we are to have our family and our faith and our health and our home and our country and our things.  We have been lucky enough to travel to other countries and see how happily (or sometimes unhappily, but mostly happily) other children live with much, much less in the way of opportunity and material goods.  We really have no right to be unhappy.  Ever.  (We also read and listen to great old books about children living happily and making do under difficult circumstances, it helps put things in perspective.)

We are not allowed to complain about what we are given to eat.  We are not allowed to appear less than totally thrilled with a gift we are given.  My brothers and sisters are not allowed to grumble about helping a sibling.  We are not allowed to complain about being hungry or tired or cold or hot -- not because we never are those things, but because complaining about it never ever makes us feel better.

If we forget, my mom likes to ask us, "What does God do to complainers?"  And then we have to say, "He sends snakes to bite them."

because it's true

We are not allowed to complain or ever forget how blessed we are.  It's bound to make us generally happier.  Maybe it will even work on me, eventually.


This one comes more easily to some kids (and grownups) than to others.  And my mom will be the first to admit that she struggles with it herself.  But kids are a whole lot happier if they can learn to control their emotions.  It's not necessary that I behave as if the whole world has come to an end if I get the green one instead of the yellow one.  I can learn to just chill, and be happy I got anything at all.  

When my brother Jack was in preschool, his teacher used to say:
"You get what you get and you don't get upset."

It still works for us.  (My mom does allow pleasant, non-whiny, non-guilt-tripping offers to trade.)


The more I hear about my brother Jack as a toddler, the more I realize how much he messed it up for the rest of us.  Apparently, he was nearly as much of a challenge as I am.  My mom learned a lot from parenting him (and watching the other moms and dads around her), but she thinks probably the most important thing she learned is that being swayed by the unhappiness of children is NOT effective in the long OR short-term as a parenting technique.

If my mom says I can't have something, then I throw a fit, then she gives it to me, she's taught me the lesson that being unhappy is an effective way to get things I want.  Of course, grownups know that bursting into tears is rarely an effective way to accomplish something.  My parents want us to learn that lesson sooner rather than later.


Sooooo . . . once my mom decided that she can't give me what I want when I'm throwing a fit, she had to figure out what to do with me instead.  Especially since sometimes it's just the late afternoon and I don't even know what I want, I just figure I'll hang on mom's leg and wail while she tries to cook dinner.  By her third baby mom realized that it wasn't doing anyone (the baby or the mom or the rest of the kids) any good to just let an unhappy-for-no-reason toddler make everyone crazy.

That's when she instituted "Cryin' Babies Go to Bed" (note: cryin' babies go to bed is NOT for babies, it's for toddlers).  

It's just what it sounds like.  If I'm wandering about the house shrieking and crying and hanging on mom, and my basic needs have been attended to but I am just being a pest . . . I get reminded that "Cryin' Babies Go to Bed."  Sometimes that's enough to settle me down.  It worked like a charm with my brothers and sisters.  As soon as my mom would walk away from my brother Bobby he would start calling down the hall after her, "Happy, Mama, happy!"  And he'd get to get out immediately.  But I'm pretty obstinate.  I like to make my parents suffer a bit before I finally come around on things.

My sister Anita sleep trained in one night.  It took me over two months.  Two very loud months.  I finally got the hang of it.  But I feel confident that I extracted my pound of flesh in exchange.

I am, so far, the unhappiest of my siblings.  But lucky for me, I have a mom who's even more obstinate than I am.  And she'll teach me to be tough and grateful and non-particular and understanding.  AND she'll get dinner made every night, even if I means I'm shouting all the worst stuff I can think of at her in baby jibberish from my crib.  None of these lessons has worked on me yet, but I'll learn.  And then I'll have that one more thing to be grateful about.

p.s. For an update clarifying some concerns some folks have had regarding this post, please check out THIS post.



  1. This was perfectly timed. Pat and I were just talking about how all of the kids were telling Frankie "Cryin babies go to bed!" during our visit. I'll have to fill him in on the backstory!

  2. Regarding #3, in my son's preschool if the teacher heard the slightest complaint when she was giving out "gifts" or food treats that were slightly different she would just keep handing them out and sing this song: "Be happy with what you get, be happy with what you get, it's a gift from me to you so be happy with what you get!" (to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell") I still remember it, and would often even sing it to myself in prayer :-)

  3. I'm definitely pulling out God sending snakes to bite complainers! Love it!

  4. I am thinking that you really need to be writing a Catholic parenting book. I'd totally buy it. Great post!

  5. This is great! I love your common sense approach! And as a former preschool teacher, I am very much familiar with the "Ya get what ya get..." phrase. Another one I used to great effect was "I can't understand what you're saying when you whine!" Eventually the kids used both those phrases on each other!

  6. Do you change your approach at all when kids are sick? I know eventually they need to be pleasant while not feeling well, but this week my son (age 2.5) has a cold and he's been super cranky at the dinner table. Usually I'd go dump him in the playpen (our version of "cryin' babies go to bed"), but he's so sad...

    1. That's a tough one, I know. We absolutely require older kids (and grownups) to be pleasant when not feeling well (I was just reminding my pregnant self of that today) but I think it's certainly reasonable to cut little ones some slack.

      The problem has come for me with particular kids really taking a mile if I give an inch. I gave my oldest son a Popsicle after he threw up once when he was two and he made himself vomit by force of will for the next three days until I figured it out and told him there would be no more Popsicles.

      I tell you, that child has made me the mother I am today. But I'm sure YOUR baby would never do anything like that and deserves your sympathy.

  7. A young friend who is pregnant for the first time posted a link to this post on Facebook today, which I how I found your blog. You are fun and inspiring, so I will have to keep reading. God bless you, and I hope your summer is quite productive!

  8. I love the "what does God do to complainers" thing, I was laughing so hard at it that my 5 year old insisted on knowing what was so funny! I think we may have a few new phrases to use around our house now!

  9. This is great. I struggle with these things and as a result my kids are kind of whinny all the time. I think we'll start implementing these rules. Thank you.

  10. This is inspiring for me, to remember that there's nothing wrong with asking kids to be happy. I had a similar policy of sending crying toddlers to bed, but it backfired - my secondborn would just work himself up to hysterical screaming and keep at it indefinitely, so we developed a "stop crying on request" rule instead.

  11. Wow. I've been instituting things like these with my own little ones (4 and 2), but, wow. "Cryin' babies go to bed!" What a liberating idea!

  12. "Cryin' babies go to bed." Thank you!!! I needed this advice!

  13. Oh how I hate the hang on mom's leg while I cook dinner! I tend to wear pajama pants almost always and the toddlers have actually pulled them down on numerous occasions. I use an intricate system of baby gates to keep them out of the kitchen now, but I must say, cryin' babies go to bed sounds like a better plan.

  14. Hi Kendra! Soaking up all your advice as I prepare for marriage and (God-willing) future kids! I love your approaches :) One question I have about this policy though is- is it mostly for whining and making a big deal about things? Because a concern I might have is that the kids might internalize that it isn't ok to feel sad or feel negative feelings (something I have had to work through in therapy as an adult). Or do you acknowledge their feelings, but don't let them dwell on it? (Also something I've learned to do :)

    1. Yes Jen, thanks. I probably need to write a follow up to this, because it is, as you point out, a balancing act. Feelings aren't bad, but being ruled by your feelings, not being able to control them, is a problem. That's what I'm trying to teach my kids. The same goes for their bodies. I don't say, "That doesn't hurt." I acknowledge that it does hurt, but that he's tough enough to handle it. It seems to work.

    2. We've always said feelings are always ok, its your response or your actions because of feelings that can be wrong. Ie, its ok to feel mad- its NOT ok to hit your brother because you're mad. We try to find constructive ways to let out feelings without being destructive to either people or things. Like if you're mad, count down from 20, color a picture that shows your feelings, or go outside and kick a ball around.

  15. "We also read and listen to great old books about children living happily and making do under difficult circumstances, it helps put things in perspective."

    Please, please, please, can you share some titles with us? My little ones are very affected by books & I would love for them to read about kids with grit!

    1. Billie, you could try The Railway Children, or Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, or Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. The Boxcar Children is a good one, too.

    2. Those are good ones, also Little House on the Prairie, Caddie Woodlawn, The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, The Matchlock Gun, Sarah Plain and Tall, The Hundred Dresses . . .

  16. I have decided that whenever I get pregnant, I'm going to compile all of your parenting advice blog posts into a book for myself. My husband will get so sick of hearing "well, Kendra says..." but over time I'll catch him doing the same things. And we'll be awesome. Just a prediction. :)

  17. I would love to know, besides telling them the snakes thing, what you DO about the complaining, whining, etc. I understand "babies go to bed", but I mean with older children. My biggest parenting issue with older children (too big to physically pick up) is the defiance toward the consequence. When the child is given the consequence and they don't comply as they are suppose to, and/or when they are suppose to. "Go to your room" or "time-out" for example.

    1. Well it's definitely easier to start when they are little. Once they believe that I always mean what I say, I don't get much pushback or resistance to punishment. Starting with older kids is going to be more difficult, but totally is doable. But you might need to get creative with consequences. It might work better to tie behavior to things like dessert or screen time or having friends over, that are easier for you to control. And then, as they ask about those things, I'd remind them, "No, I'm sorry, we won't be doing that today, because you complained about schoolwork."

      I'm mostly against the long term use of chore charts and reward systems, but if the problem you need to address is specifically complaining and bad attitude, you might have success with a complaint jar and a compliance jar. It might be helpful for older kids to see how often they are complaining and disobeying, vs how often they have a good attitude and are obedient. And there could be a big negative consequence if you fill up the complaint jar, and a big positive consequence if you fill up the compliance jar.

      We have a lot of success with our Lenten bean jar for good behavior. And they really don't even get anything for it. It's just putting in the beans all Lent! Then over Easter they get jelly beans for good behavior. I've never tried it outside of Lent, but it might be helpful.

      I'd really recommend the book "Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime" by Dr. Ray Guarandi. He has a really great, common sense approach to parenting.

    2. Thanks, Kendra! I appreciate the time you take with your answers! I do do the "crying babies go to bed" thing with my 2 year old, but since my question, I started to say to the 4 year old the same thing (known for wining). If you are going to cry like a baby then you have to go to bed like a baby. That stops that pretty quickly. I also started to point out more about how blessed we are, and that we really have no reason to complain about anything. The 4 year old has been learning at school (Catholic parish school) about our sister school in Haiti, and how little they have. The timing was perfect!
      I also started to use your "ouch, ouch, ouch" one too :)
      My oldest (even though I feel I have been pretty darn consistent with not giving in or backing down) is still the biggest challenge when it comes to discipline--she is also wired not to back down. Now that we have moved to a new neighborhood where she has friends that she looks forward to seeing after school, I have something that is meaningful to take away from her (no outside play with friends). Before that, there really wasn't too much that effected her if it was taken away.
      Thanks for all your suggestions, and like you, my kids loved the bean jar that we did for the first time this year for Lent. I would like to maybe bring something similar back. They loved working for those beans and they don't even like jelly beans :) Maybe something where if they get a certain number of coins or something at the end of the month they get a special treat. Especially as we head in to summer and we will all be home together again :) Thanks again for all your insight!
      Oh, one more thing--I have started taking some of your tips about including liturgical living into our lives and making it fun. I have 3 girls and they really get into that kind of special meal, etc, stuff. I am going to start celebrating their special 3 days, and we did the Annunciation celebration with the waffles. I would love a heads up (maybe on Instagram) about the days you celebrate with a special meal and stuff. Thanks!

  18. I am pregnant with number 5 and we use the same rules you do! It's like validation that I'm doing something right. We say "Whiners go to bed," and "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." For injuries, I NEVER rush to their side unless they are under one. I let them come to me from wherever they are and then I acknowledge that it hurts but remind them that they're not bleeding and there are no broken bones so they will be OK.
    I love your blog!

  19. Please tell me how complaining about food is not allowed. Apparently I really messed this one up!

  20. Currently trying the "cryin babies go to bed" tactic (as my three year old daughter screams from her bed). Praying it helps mellow out my whiney, bossy, threenager.


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