Life was going pretty well. The morning routine was smooth and rather peaceful. We got out on time and no one was late. The family room stayed fairly neat. The dirty laundry was where it should be. Preparing for bedtime was a breeze. The kids listened and followed directions and were obliging. Then, all of a sudden, everything seemed to be going downhill and out of control. The arguing increased, there was less cooperation and we started being late to things.
Have you noticed your kids paying less and less attention to limits you’ve set? Do consequences not seem to have much of an effect? Uh-oh! You’ve slipped into using the 5 common mistakes parents make that give away control. Any of these ring true?
1. You Talk Too Much
The more you say the less effective you become. Doing a lot of explaining is not helpful.
Try going into great detail to make something clear to your spouse. (Women tend to do this more than men.) Your spouse can become impatient waiting for the “bottom line.” Even adults can lose focus of the point when it is too long-winded.
Children’s attention span is short, so keep things short. Don’t go overboard trying to explain a situation or a limit you’ve set for your child. The more children hear, the less they listen. And if they are upset or acting out, a lot of talking can make it worse. Children (and adults too) who are angry or emotional can’t easily listen or respond logically.
“I know you’re upset we cancelled our trip to the park. I feel so bad we couldn’t go. But as I said before, we would try to fit it in if we could, but it just didn’t happen. I know you have such fun on the big slide and really like to climb the ladder. I didn’t realize your brother had practice that day and I can’t be in two places at once. Your brother needs me to drive him, and I can’t get anyone else. I am really sorry. I will take you in the next day or two. I promise.”
“I am so sorry we couldn’t go to the park today. I can take you in 2 days. I’ll make sure to pack your favorite snack when we go.”
“Please don’t put that cereal in the cart. I’ve already got enough cereal for the week. And we don’t need any more juice boxes either. No, you can’t have that. I told you in the car we wouldn’t be getting any of that today. Stop. Put that back on the shelf right now! You are making this take all day. Remember what I just said a minute ago? I just told you I wanted to just get in and out.”
“Today is only a quick stop at the store. No treats today. Help me make it in and out, and we will have time to play your favorite game when we get home. Thanks for understanding.”
2. You show frustration or anger
Every one gets frustrated or angry with their kids from time to time—it’s normal. However, frustration and anger only feed more misbehavior. If kids know they can make their parent’s face turn red, or make them frown or become upset, they will likely do a repeat performance. They’ve found a way to “push your button.”
Instead, when this happens, walk away and do some deep breathing. It’s also okay to say, “I am too frustrated (or angry) to deal with this right now. I need a time out.” Allow yourself some time and distance. It may take a while.
An effective response shows sadness first, and then states a consequence or the planning of a future consequence. “This is so sad. I’m really sorry you chose to [state the misbehavior: e.g., throw your toy, hit your sister, write on the wall]. I’m going to have to do something about this. I’ll let you know after I think about it for a while. Try not to worry.”
3. You give lots of warnings before the consequence.
Giving kids reminders “trains” them to become dependent on being reminded. Is that the outcome you want? Another downside to warnings is that the more a child is warned about a consequence, the less he/she seems to care about consequences when they finally come. One short, clear and direct message about the consequence is enough. Our job is to prepare kids for the real world. And the real world doesn’t come with warning labels:
- The stop sign doesn’t say, “I’ve warned you four times to come to a complete stop.”
- Your job doesn’t send constant emails telling you the consequence for a late report.
- The junk food you eat doesn’t have a warning saying if you eat too many you’ll gain weight!
4. You make sure you lecture afterwards.
Lectures are really annoying. How do you feel when your spouse lectures you?
“I told you to not to take this route. It always gets backed up this time of day. Why don’t you listen to me? Have you learned your lesson?”
Lectures destroy any lesson you want a child to learn. Why is that? The anger they feel during the lecture takes the focus off the misbehavior and puts it on YOU. They forget they are the one who made the poor decision and become angry with you for telling them what they did wrong. Don’t be an “I told you so….” You really don’t like it when others say that to you, and your child won’t like it either. The outcome was a result of their behavior, and they know it. You don’t have to rub salt in their wounds!
5. You lose the positive connection with your child.
Are you finding yourself giving your child more negative feedback and less positive attention? Have you been so buried in projects you’ve cut back on the usual amount of togetherness? Sometimes life can become so hectic we slowly lose track of where we are putting our time and energy. For the most part, kids understand when occasionally you have to reschedule or aren’t available. However, if this happens often, feelings get out of balance and your relationship will suffer. Get back on track with hugs, shared interests and doing things with them that they enjoy.
Change by Engaging in Habits of Effective Parenting:
1. Talk economically. Choose words that express your expectations and let it go.
2. Express sincere empathy—use techniques to calm yourself down.
3. Leave out warnings.
4. Avoid the temptation to lecture.
5. Stay connected with activities based on what your child likes to do.
Janada Clark teaches Love and Logic at Stanford and public and private schools. Her parent education classes are a well respected resource for parents. Class information is listed on her website. If you would like to receive a free monthly parent newsletter with lots of parenting tips and ideas, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her Facebook community where parents post success stories and questions at facebook.com/clearpatheducation.