Today’s post is really the first of two parts, since they go hand in hand. Today I am going to write about the importance of meaning what you say and the next post will be about dealing with repeat misbehaviors, dealing with heart issues.
We love our kids and want the best for them. We want them to like us, so sometimes being the “bad guy” can be hard for some personality types. Then we get the famous sayings like “Just wait until your father comes home!” or “Go ask your mother.” Many times, after a long day, we decide to ease up just a little on parenting, to give ourselves a break. It is really very easy to excuse ourselves from the hard parts of parenting, isn’t it?
This is a misconception of our society, shy away from what you aren’t a superstar in. I have had parent/teacher conferences go something like this: “Well, I’m not good in math, so how can you expect my son to be good in math?” Really?!? But, that’s a whole other soapbox. 😉 What we have to realize is this- no matter our strengths or weaknesses, our kids are depending on us to be the whole package. They NEED us to work on our weaknesses.
So what weaknesses am I talking about?
Here is a true scenario from our neighborhood pool last night: A bunch of moms are out by the pool watching their kids. For the most part, it is relaxing! They are chatting while their kids happily swim. Then 2 boys start wrestling, splashing around, kicking and jumping in without looking. One boy starts crying, so the mom jumps up and yells “That’s it! We are leaving right now and I mean it!” The boys protest, make excuses and down right ignore her several commands to get out of the water. Every time they ask to stay, it is a staunch “NO!”. After yelling at them for several minutes, I hear her say “Well, this time we can stay a little longer. But no more being rough or we will leave right away!” Does this stop the behavior? You could probably guess… no. The boys are back at it again. Mom threatens. Boys ignore. All the while, the boys are making it not so fun for the other kids swimming. Now, we aren’t talking about small boys. They were probably 8-10yrs in age.
I don’t claim to know all of their background and don’t want to sound judgemental, but as you read that account, can you see what went wrong? It seems really obvious to me- mom made a statement, tried to stick with it, but then bows out. The boys had NO REAL CONSEQUENCES for their bad behavior. Mom threatened, but that isn’t a punishment. I think it is always easier to look at others and see what they can do differently. And I wish this scenario was a rare occurrence, but it isn’t. Many parents, whether they are exhausted or just don’t want to be the “bad guy”, don’t follow through on their threats. Kids are smart. They learn what they can get away with very quickly. If you don’t follow through,they know before you do. So look at yourself from a 3rd party perspective. Can you see a pattern of threatening and never punishing? Can you ask a good friend to be honest and evaluate you? This isn’t easy people! We don’t like to hear bad stuff about ourselves! But isn’t it worth it?
Here are steps that I try to follow when my kids misbehave:
1. Think (and pray) before you speak.
When you open your mouth, are you in control? Or is anger in control? When you say “Stop doing that or I will……”, is it something you fully intend to do? Even if it is inconvenient for you? What you say you will do is so important. Kids do respect people who mean what they say. And, something to think about, when you say you will do something when they misbehave and don’t, that actually makes you a liar. Ouch!
2. Follow through.
If I’ve thought about the punishment and am sure that I will do it, I tell my child what the consequence will be. Then I HAVE to follow through. I am not the bad guy. I did not make the poor choice, my child did. His actions have consequences and it is up to me to teach him this, or I am SETTING HIM/HER UP FOR FAILURE IN LIFE. You are doing your child a disservice when you don’t punish! You are going to frustrate his/her teacher. Your kid will act out even more. This is stuff we don’t want! But, it isn’t as hard to do as you think. Yes, your kid will be mad at you. Yes, you will have resistance. I have been a stay at home mom for almost 10 years before going back to work. And just by the nature of being home more, I tend to discipline the kids more than my husband does (yes, he disciplines, too.). If our conception of discipline is true, then my kids should love my husband way more, since I am the “bad guy” more often. Guess what? They don’t. They love us both so much. They write me notes about how much they love me and I get all the snuggle time I want! Why? They know mommy tells them what is right, and will correct them when they do what is wrong. I don’t punish because I am mad at them or don’t like them, it is because they made a poor choice and I want to help them learn the right choices. Which leads to my next step:
Don’t hold a grudge over your child for the poor choices he has made. After the punishment is over, hug them and tell them you love them. Punishment is not a method to get revenge, it is a way of trying to prevent that bad choice in the future. Love covers over so much! Let your kid see that the only reason you punish them is because you love them and want them to turn out to be great adults.
4. When you make a mistake….
OK, so you won’t be perfect. Me either. We all are not perfect. Every once in a while, you will shout out something ridiculous. A punishment you would never, ever do and then you secretly hope your kid will obey so you won’t have to go through with it. Been there? I have! The second it comes out of my mouth, I think “oh, boy. Can’t believe I just said that!” Here’s what we need to do in the circumstance. If we are in a public place, pull the child aside. This lessens attention. Apologize. If you said something you don’t intend to do, tell your child. “Mommy’s sorry I said that. I really won’t sell all of your toys on Craig’s List. I was upset. Do you forgive me? Thank you. Now here is what mommy meant to say: If you don’t obey, here is what mommy will really do….” You can adjust to your kids’ age levels. But the main thing is to apologize as soon as you realize it is not a fair punishment. If you continue to promise to do it until the kid has defied you 20 times, it is no longer graceful to say “I was wrong, I won’t punish you”. You’ve just been whipped. And notice that I didn’t say they weren’t going to be punished. I just changed the punishment to a more reasonable one. I still will follow through with the new punishment.
5. Consider having a house set of rules, with punishments predetermined.
In our house, our kids know that if they speak disrespectfully to mom or dad, lie to us, or hurt their brother or sister in any way, there is an automatic punishment. We’ve dealt with those issues in the past, so I don’t need to “warn” you, you just need to obey. Deciding on punishments and warning kids really should only be needed on new issues you see that come up. If my son knows that he will get a warning every day to be nice to his brother, he will be unkind to him once every day. That’s not what I want to happen, right? So he is 11 and old enough to know that he will be punished if he chooses to be unkind. With these set rules in place, I have now conveyed the idea to my son that it is not ever ok to be unkind to someone in our family.
Think about the rules in your house. Is it mass chaos? Do you only enforce rules when you are well rested or in public? Think about what you are teaching your children through this. If I want my kids to always obey, whether someone is watching or not, I need to be consistent myself. Or are you too hard on your kids? There is another side to the coin! If you haven’t told your kid that an action is wrong, should you really punish him/her for doing it? In all things, think about how you would like to be treated in your child’s place. Be understanding, but remember, you are not trying to be BFFs, you are training your child. And if we don’t train our own children, who do we expect to do so?