I talk to parents all the time who have the best intentions for managing their children’s behavior, but end up frustrated to the point of tears because of one simple mistake. It’s the difference between effectively teaching your child appropriate behavior and locking yourself in a closet, pulling your hair out, because you just can’t take it anymore. It is to the “terrible twos” what canned food and waterproof matches are to surviving in the woods. Ready?
Look at every move you make through the eyes of a 2-year-old (or whatever age you’re struggling through right now). Doesn’t sound like much, but let’s look at a couple real-life examples:
1. “My child has 5-10 tantrums a day, screams for 20 minutes or more, and I just can’t take it anymore.” I asked this mom (and many others before her) what goes on around these tantrums. They were usually triggered by the child not getting her way–having to put her shoes on, being told to clean up a mess, not getting the toy she wants…you know the deal. No matter where they were, the girl would fall on the floor, scream, and flail around in protest. And her mom would pick her up, tell her everything was going to be ok, and [sometimes] give her what she wanted to make her stop. So what does the child see? I don’t get what I want–>I act ridiculous–>mom holds me and I don’t have to put my shoes on.
2. “Time out doesn’t work.” I’ve heard that one a lot. Unless the child is developmentally incapable of comprehending time out, the reason is usually that it isn’t being used correctly. I talked to a mom a couple weeks ago with the same story. When her son broke the rules, she would put him in “time out”–which entailed sitting on the couch beside her for 5 minutes (because he was getting up from the floor). What did he see? I do something bad–>I get up when mom tells me to sit down–>I get to snuggle on the couch with mom.
I could go on and on with these scenarios, but if you’re reading this, you probably have a few of your own. We are so used to living in our grown-up world where we think in abstractions and are used to delayed gratification, but kids see things in a different–and very simple–way.
Here are a few tips:
1. Look at every parenting move through the eyes of your child–how will he interpret what you do, and what lesson will be learned?
2. Time out works. But you have to use it right. Here’s a great book (quick, easy read) if it’s not working for you.
3. I won’t go into whether or not you should ever spank your child–but spanking in response to hitting or other aggressive behaviors definitely sends the wrong message.
4. Your child would rather have bad attention than no attention. Ignoring is more powerful than yelling (which is why time out works).
5. Catch your child being good. The word “discipline” comes from the same root word as “disciple,” and literally means “to teach.” Punishment has its place, but showering your child with hugs and praise when she does something good can be powerful. It also keeps your interactions from being purely negative, even in the face of behavioral challenges.