Parenting is hard. It doesn’t take long to realize that kids are born with a sin nature. One day your adorable little angel goes from only crying when he is hungry or sleepy to crying because he didn’t get his way. Before long, he’s hitting a playmate. And when you ask him if he did something wrong, he will lie about it. Every parent knows the panic that ensues when they realize their precious child is intentionally choosing to do wrong things. “How can we curb this behavior? What if we can’t help him learn to behave differently? What if he grows up to be an axe murderer?” That last one might be overkill, but we do tend to worry that they aren’t going to grow up to be great citizens and great Christians. So what do we do about bad behavior and habits? Our last parenting book does not answer that question. It’s more about instilling the right heart and philosophies into your children. Our next parenting book will be all about it! But in the meantime, let’s talk about some methods that are doomed to fail.
Threatening/repeating - Have you ever been in a store and heard a parent say, “If you don’t stop doing that you are going to lose TV for a month!” Do you think that parent is going to follow through with that? Trust me, your child is smart enough to know when you are throwing out random consequences that you don’t intend to enforce. Maybe you’ve heard parents tell their children to do something over and over, basically begging them to comply, instead of consistently expecting them to obey when they are told to do something. Continually telling your child to do something and not consistently following through with consequences when they do not obey is a recipe for years of frustration. A classic example of this is telling your child to do something, and when they don’t seem interested in listening, you start counting. It doesn’t take long before they realize, you have no intention of enforcing anything when you get to 3. And if you were going to consistently enforce consequences at 3, why not consistently enforce them as soon as they refuse to obey? That should especially be the case when it is something that has come up often and they clearly know they must do. If that is not the case you might follow the unheeded command with, “that needs to happen right now.” Kids need to see consistency of expectations and consequences.
Time Out (in some cases) - Small children do not usually have the cognitive ability to sit and think through what they’ve done wrong. Many times when they have done something wrong and a time out is administered, they will simply sit and throw a fit while they “do their time.” Allowing a child to throw a fit over receiving the consequences of their actions is not really teaching them anything. It is also not very considerate to anyone else that has to hear it, which is one of the reasons this method often does not “travel well.” Can you do this routine at your parents’ house at Christmas? What about at a friend’s house for a playdate? There is a time and place for separating the child from the situation and giving them a moment to think about what they have done and how they should respond. But allowing them to throw a fit while they are in time out is not helping anything.
Ignoring a tantrum - At some point the prevailing wisdom on dealing with tantrums became ignoring them so that they don’t get the attention they desire by throwing a fit. This method also does not travel well. If you are unable to rein in your child when she is throwing a tantrum at home, you will be dead in the water in public. How many times have we all seen parents walking through the store with an angry, screaming kid while saying, “I’m not going to talk to you until you calm down, because we don’t act like this.” Meanwhile, everyone else can’t hear themselves think. What they want more than attention is to react however they choose to things they are not happy about. Allowing them to continue to throw tantrums only reinforces a lack of self-discipline.
Losing your cool - I’ll be the first to admit this one is tough for me. There’s something about a person that you gave life to, who lives in your house and eats all your food, and maybe barely contributes to the running of the household (does a few chores) telling you that they don’t care what you want them to do that is really, really frustrating! Kids have an amazing ability to consistently push your buttons. It’s very easy to get angry and yell. However, when we do that, we aren’t modeling anything good for them, and it probably doesn’t help them listen. It also can damage the relationship which will cost you down the road. One of the greatest ways to avoid losing it is to be consistent. We often wait until our kids are on our last nerve before we deal with an issue. If we consistently and calmly deal with issues as soon as they cross a line, it is easier to keep the focus on helping them change and learn new habits instead of seeing it as an attack on your authority.
So, if these methods are not effective, what is? Unfortunately, you are going to have to wait until our book on discipline comes out! If you are interested in our book that shows how to raise your child to love God and be a leader for Jesus, check out “Use it or Lose it: Parenting for long-term results” on Amazon.