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Monday, 31 October 2011

Parenting: Sending Clear Messages to Get Results

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I went to visit an old friend the other day, she has a three year old boy.  He's a cute little kid, but he doesn't listen, ever.  I wondered why, and then I witnessed this little exchange: five minutes to bedtime, he grabs an apple on the  table.  She tells him in a sweet tone "Noooo, it's too close to bedtime, you can't have an apple right now." He smiles and doesn't move.  She says: "I said no, bring it to me please"  So he smiles again and brings the apple to his mouth.  She says, a little more sternly: "Don't you take a bite of that apple!"  He giggles, takes a bite, and runs away.  She's obviously angry, but she turns to us and says: "Oh whatever, I don't feel like it."

I actually witnessed a few incidents along these lines during the day, but none so blatant as this one. I could not believe she would let him get away with this kind of behaviour.  If one of my children had tried to pull that, the apple would have been swiftly taken away and the child put directly to bed.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars.  I was incensed, and wanted to tell her that her inactions now would result in much bigger problems later.  That she was teaching him not only that he didn't have to listen to her, but on a much deeper level, that he doesn't have to listen to authority.

It's not that I'm an expert on parenting, far from it.  I can only tell you what has worked for me.  When the boys were about three and four, I did way too much yelling in a day.  There came a point where I couldn't even stand the sound of my own voice when I was screaming, and all it would ever get me was a headache.  I was not getting any results.

At my wit's end, I watched an episode of Super Nanny.  While I had been doing time outs, I discovered that I was doing them all wrong, had been giving my kids way too many warnings and following through way too little.

I implemented her suggestions, and started seeing real results within a week.  It required A LOT of effort, not letting them get away with anything meant I had to intervene often, and heard many tantrums in a short while, and believe me when I tell you that I didn't always "feel like it".
  • First off, the kids were allowed only one warning.  (not the seven I had previously been giving them)  Not listening meant they would be sent directly to time-out.  
  • Second,  while before I would argue and struggle to physically put the child on a chair, they now had to take their chair and go sit in the designated area.  Refusal to go to time out would result in more unpleasant consequences.  For both, being sent to their bedroom seemed to be the worse punishment possible at the time.
  • Third, and I think this had been my biggest mistake, a timer was to be set, one minute for every year of age, and the child was to remain silent and seated for that period, or face longer time.  Before this, I would argue with him back and  forth the entire time, how dumb was I to be arguing with a four year old?  I restarted the timer on my oldest's several times before he started to understand that misbehaving was going to get him absolutely nowhere.   
  • Finally, when the time was up, I'd go to the child, get down to their level, ask them if they were ready to apologize, and if they did, I'd ask them for a kiss and give them a big hug, sending them on their way with a "don't do it again".  If they refused to apologize, I'd ask if they needed more time, and walk away if they still didn't answer.  This would totally freak out my youngest... I'd come back one to two minutes later and start the process over again.  Super Nanny's tips were dead on, and pretty soon, the question: "Do you need a time-out?"  was often enough to calm them down.

One phrase my children have heard very often is "You are not the boss here.  I am the boss here".  I mean it, and I enforce it.  Another is, "I'm not just talking to you because I like the sound of my voice you know."  I have taught my children that bad actions lead to consequences and good actions lead to rewards, such as getting a sticker at the end of the day at daycare, or having to do a time-out, or some other consequence because they did something really bad.  One thing that kills my boys is the prospect of no dessert after dinner.  Serious infractions have led to this punishment, and those infractions were not repeated.  It may be something different with your child; such as taking away video games, or another favourite toy.  (Tried those, but nowhere near as effective as the dessert thing... my guys love to eat!)

 I see too many parents looking the other way when their children misbehave.  Is it that they're afraid their children won't love them if they discipline them?  Is it because they want to be their friends more than they want to be their parents?  Is it that they think strangers will think less of them if they discipline their children???

Jim Fay, in his post entitled "If Kids Can Hear Promises, They Can Hear Requests - Getting your child to listen to you is easier than it sounds" talks about exactly that, and I agree wholeheartedly with his statement "Be prepared for Joshua to have a fit about not getting his way.  Even though this will be uncomfortable, other adults around her will secretly applaud her courage and willingness to put forth the efforts to raise a well-behaved child."  

I've also seen too many parents try to discipline but giving in too easily.  If you have already said no, or are trying to enforce a time-out, and the crying has gone on for so long that you finally cave, you have just taught that child that if it screams and howlers for long enough, it will eventually get what it wants.  The thing about kids is that they're really smart, they catch on quickly, especially to the things you don't want them to know about.  So if you want to get good results, make sure you are sending them clear messages.  Never make a threat you aren't prepared to follow through on, because you're child will be just like the one in Jim Fay's article.  It will know that "nothing" will happen if it doesn't listen.

I love my children to death, and when they cry because they've hurt themselves, or because something has really hurt their feelings, my heart melts and I would do anything to take away the pain and the tears.  But when they are wailing because they just got in trouble for doing something bad, I could care less, and they have learned it.  Things like "You're Mean!" and "I don't love you anymore!" really don't affect me, and it's just one more thing I make them apologize for before it's all over.

As they get older and these lessons are now instilled, I find myself needing to discipline less and getting to enjoy them more.  Sometimes my oldest will try to start a tantrum, and usually, asking him this question gets him to stop: "When has screaming and crying ever gotten you what you wanted from me?"  All the hard work and tenacity has paid off, and I'm hoping it's going to keep paying off for years to come.

Much Love, 


  1. I love Super Nanny's discipline technique. You're right, letting a child off the hook too easily sends them the wrong message.

  2. It drives me CRAZY when I see parents not following through. Good for you!

  3. Thanks Ladies! I am no perfect mother, but I'm very proud of how well behaved my boys are. I hardly ever get negative comments from daycare or school any more!