How do you get your 6-year-old to brush his teeth? What should you do when your toddler won’t stop throwing sand? All parents know consistent discipline is the secret, but what if you consistently reach for the wrong approach in your discipline arsenal?
Here are some common disciplinary bad habits and ideas to help you make them over to become a more effective nurturer.
1. You Yell.
When yelling, you’re not in control.
The Make-over: When your blood pressure shoots up, make sure your volume comes down. If you are not in the same room, move physically closer to your child. State your demands with a firm, business-type tone. Psychologist Myrna Shure, author of “Raising a Thinking Child,” explains that yelling ignites anger and “children can become immune to being yelled at and start to tune it out.” (Which is why their room is still trashed after shrieking “Clean that room!” seven times.)
2. You Label.
When you constantly voice disappointment and frustration, it’s hurtful. When you regularly label (“You’re the laziest kid on the planet!”), you set them up for counterproductive behavior.
The Make-over: Stop labeling and sizing them up. It is not fair to compare them to siblings, friends, or cousins. Be careful about positive labeling as well (“You’re a genius!”) which can hurt them in the long term. Instead, focus on the good behavior. They hear everything you say, and it changes them so if you have to vent, do it far from their ears. Remember we all go through rough patches! Kids may feel unloved and anything but motivated when you compare them to someone else.
3. You Threaten.
Making wild promises you’ll never keep is harmful. If you make idle threats, your smart kids have already figured out you’re a fraud and won’t alter their behavior. Essentially, you are teaching a dangerous disconnect: it’s okay to say one thing and do another.
The Make-over: Make your expectations clear ahead of time. Be ardent about how you want your kids to behave before they visit the beach, a friend’s house or a department store. If they blow it and you have to dole out punishment, make sure it’s a reasonable consequence and will be carried out. For example, don’t threaten “I will leave you alone on this beach if you don’t straighten up!” Keep your expectations realistic when placing kids in situations where they will be unduly bored or challenged.
4. You Bribe.
Motivating your kids to behave with food, toys, or money might seem effective. But you can become a slave to your kids this way, and it throws out a choice, which should not even be offered. Whenever you say “If you … I will …” you are entering a danger zone. You are buying compliance, which may not be for sale in any given circumstance. Bribing is different from rewarding your children for good behavior.
The Make-over: Say goodbye to bribes—they’re no good for you.
When your child displays good behavior, give rewards and praise their efforts afterward. Promising to give stickers, candy, or cash is not a disciplinary pattern you want to create and will usually backfire.
5. You Talk Excessively and Don’t Listen.
Stringing together more sentences and appealing to their reason will not earn more compliance. Is this you? “Dental hygiene is so very, very important, honey. When we don’t take care of our little teeth, the tooth bugs attack ‘em and we have to go to Mr. Dentist who scares you and has the drill thing that’s so very, very loud.”
The Make-over: See the value of the art of listening. Don’t turn simple daily requests into lengthy monologues where kids are given the opportunity to negotiate. It’s unwise, slows everyone down, and annoys everyone around you. If your kids aren’t listening, it may be in part due to your inability to hear them. If you do all the talking and shut down when they talk, you are modeling poor listening skills. Your kids may learn these poor skills and then later be hurt by them socially.
You want your kids to form good habits so expect them to obey without excessive communication. In “A Little Book of Listening Skills,” neuroscientist Mark Brady writes “Learning to stop talking so much and to listen is a powerful step in loving ourselves and other people. In a world full of talkers, a skillful listener shines like the Hope Diamond.”
Listening is a simple, powerful way to show our children love. It is a skill we can all improve and begins with shutting up. Counselor David Augsberger says, “Being listened to is so close to being loved, that most people don’t know the difference.”
So true! Let this insight and all these ideas for breaking bad habits lead you toward more effective discipline and peaceful times with your children.
Michele Ranard has a husband, two children, a master’s in counseling and blogs at cheekychimama.blogspot.com and hellolovelyinc.blogspot.com.