Say What You Mean
The Two Rules of Engagement
Say what you mean, consistently. When you give your child a consequence, say what you mean and make it something you can live with. Do not promise to bust their butt or give them “something to cry about.” That is not working and it isn’t appropriate. Pick a suitable, specific and fair consequence.
You must have every intention of following through. I’ve heard, “If you don’t stop now, we will leave!” so many times it makes my head spin. Yet I have never once witnessed a parent grab the kid and head out the door. Not once, not ever. Bottom line, the words are full of hooey and the kid knows it. So forget cooperation!
Do What You Say
Kids will respond to your warnings if they know you aren’t kidding. Simply tell them the consequence to any continued behavior and give them time to comply. If they choose not to cooperate, implement your consequence. DO NOT GIVE IDLE THREATS!! Do not even think about letting it slide. Idle threats are a parent’s worst enemy because it means a child has no limits. Stop what you are doing, get up and go through with your consequence ! EVERYTIME, CONSISTENTLY.
If you promise a new toy as a reward for good behavior all week, hold to it! Define ‘good behavior’ ahead of time and make sure your child understands and complies. Start a behavior chart so she knows where she stands all week. Believe me, if she fumbles, she’ll pitch a fit. But if you told her she had to use appropriate language all week, yet her behavior chart clearly has the word ‘damn’ on Tuesday afternoon, she does NOT get that reward. I promise, she’ll remember it next time. You may have one horrible afternoon, but don’t wimp out! You can make it.
The rules of engagement build a foundation of trust. For example, if ‘five more minutes’ or ‘one more time’ doesn’t seem to work for you, assess whether or not you are saying what you mean and doing what you say. If your child doesn’t trust you, she’ll consistently be aggressive and obstinate when the five minutes are up. And you can’t blame the kid. It’s more likely you’ve taught her ‘five more minutes’ just means she has to turn on the voice and water works to get what she wants. Transitions are difficult enough as it is. Do not compound the problem by being inconsistent.
Demanding behavior means you are:
- Giving too much
- Not setting limits
- Being inconsistent
Go through with what you say! Being a pushover to every argument and demand teaches your child that you are not trustworthy.
Be honest when telling your child time frames. Make sure that ‘five more minutes on the computer’ really means five more minutes on the computer. When kids do not trust your word, tantrums, rotten behavior and bedtime battles are on the way. Again, honesty, consistency and limits give kids security.
When I substitute teach at my kids’ school, I have clear rules. I introduce myself and write my rules on the white board. Each time the kids break a rule, I point it out. “That breaks rule number one.” In this way, the kids understand (a) exactly what my rules mean and (b) I’m enforcing them. The rules must be followed. Sometimes I’m funny about it, but most of the time my attitude is firm: No nonsense, you will obey the rules.