If you’re talking and no one is listening, you might be a parent. Maybe your voice becomes louder with each successive ‘time for bed’ announcement. You’re at the point of shouting after your daughter ignores your third warning. She continues to play, with toys scattered about the floor. She has tuned you out. She has made it a nightly habit to push her limits for bedtime. This has become a battle of wills, and she is winning.
This kind of behavior is no surprise. She has been watching, listening, and learning from the first day of her life. She knows you’ll have to get to the frustration point and make some empty threats before she has to stop and go to bed. She’s only playing the game by the rules as she knows them.
This is a problem that will only get worse as the child gets older. It’s up to mom and dad to learn a better way of parenting. In order for the child’s behavior to change, first the parent has to change his behavior. To some, this may sound absurd, but it’s true. When a parent changes the way he interacts with a child, the child reacts in a different way.
One of the most ineffective discipline methods a parent can use to promote behavior change is to make a threat that is never followed through. Most parents are aware of this, but at the same time, many are guilty of doing it. It’s easy to tell a child, “If I step on one more Lego, I’m going to give every last one of them away.”
Of course, when tomorrow dawns, Legos are strewn everywhere, and your foot makes contact with one. You shake your head and yell for the child to pick them up. Giving the Legos away was never the real intention, and the child knew it as soon as the words left your lips. This has to change. Kids must be taught that your words are not just so much hot air.
When making an ultimatum statement, first be sure it fits the offense. Some infractions are big, some are small. Second, be sure you are 100% committed to following through with the punishment that was stated. Otherwise, your words are meaningless. Your child’s behavior will not change, in fact, it will become worse, unless he knows you mean what you say.
So what about the child who doesn’t pay attention to mom or dad when asked multiple times to get ready for bed or complete some other task? Remember, the parent’s behavior must change. Look in the child’s eyes, and be sure she’s listening. Without raising your voice, tell her in a matter of fact tone the time she is expected to be in bed. Restrain yourself from giving multiple reminders. For every minute she is late getting into bed, she will have to make those minutes up somewhere. Follow through by taking the same number of minutes she was late getting into bed from something she enjoys, maybe TV time or game time. Let her know that by making an even exchange the debt is paid. Remind her this is only fair. Do this by saying as little as possible about the matter. Avoid letting the child draw you into a long discussion or argument. Make it clear that bedtime is not negotiable. Do the same for other tasks.
Use kindness when working with your child. A parent can be firm without being mean or harsh. Discipline is not about the control of another person, but about the guidance of a child. The goal is not to boss around the child so that he obeys your commands like a robot. Instead, we want to teach the child to have self-control and to think about the consequences of his actions. Children feel safe when they live with order and know what to expect from their parents. Both the parent and child feel frustrated when limits are not defined.
One way to avoid situations where meaningless threats are made is to keep anger in check. Anger is a parent’s adversary and is an enemy of clear thinking. When tempers boil out of control, parents may make threats they never intend to follow through on. Parents can stay in control by remaining calm. Anger weakens a parent’s power. Take a breather and think before speaking. You can’t teach your child better behavior when you have no control over your own behavior.
When your actions are consistent, your child will feel more secure. She will know what the outcome of her behavior will be. Reminding your daughter of her bedtime will be just that, a reminder. There will be no need to threaten, to get angry, or to tell her twice.
Although it’s best to start your child off at a young age by being consistent with your words and actions, never feel it’s too late to start. An older child will have some bad habits to unlearn, but with firmness and patience, better behaviors can be taught. The key is to say what you mean, and mean what you say.
Keep in mind, you’re the parent. Guiding your child’s behavior is part of your job description. Behavior can’t be changed in a day, so don’t get discouraged. If you’re willing to change your own behavior, a change in your child’s behavior will follow. Talk to your child, not to the wall.