Following Through

How many of you make empty threats to your children?  Don’t be shy…you can admit it because we all do it.  Whether I am at the supermarket, at the playground or at a play date, I hear parents vocalizing the same statements when their children are misbehaving.  The most popular one I would have to say is, “If I have to tell you one more time, we are leaving”.  When the behavior does not stop, I usually see a bit of panic in the mother’s face, almost as if she does not know what to do next.   Then I hear a flustered, “Okay, that’s it; we are going home if I see you do that again”.  They once again do not go home and the cycle continues.
In this example, the child is being challenged, but he figures it out that his mother will never follow through and take him home.  From his point of view, there is no consequence for misbehaving or even an incentive for behaving well.  Being realistic, of course no parent actually wants to leave the park 5 minutes after he/she arrives, but if that promise is made, you have to follow through and leave.   If you don’t, your word doesn’t mean anything and the cycle will be hard to break.
Some parents actually fear what the outcome would be if they actually left the park.  Most likely, there would be tears, perhaps some screaming and depending on your child’s temperament, an all together meltdown.  No one wants to deal with that, especially in a public place.  However, if we just suffered through these meltdowns a few times, our kids would learn that their behavior has consequences and would in time, start listening better.  As parents, we cannot let our children exhibit bad behavior just because we don’t want to deal with it at the time.  Here are some ideas on how to make this behavior alteration easier for both of you:
1)      Instead of making a threatening statement, try to use positive reinforcement to provide a better tone.  For example, “We just got to the park and believe me, Mommy doesn’t want to leave.  I’d rather see you stay and play for a while.  However, Mommy is telling you that if you hit your brother one more time, I will have to take you home.  I know it stinks so it’s up to you to behave and follow the rules.  Do you understand what Mommy is saying?  Great listener! Thanks.”  This puts the responsibility on the child and lets him know that if he goes home, it is because he didn’t listen, not because Mommy is mean.   Here is another example using a different scenario: “Hey guys…you are making such a big mess and it’s not appropriate to throw food at the table.  If it continues, there will be no dessert.  Last night, you were so well behaved and I was so proud.  Please make me proud again, sit nicely, finish your dinner and let’s talk about what’s for dessert.”  This shifts the subject from how bad the child is being to the reward he will get if he behaves. 
2)       If you notice your child acting extra cranky due to sickness, lack of sleep or to simply having an off day, it’s probably not a great idea to bring him on errands when you know he will act up.  You are setting yourself up for a disaster and as parents, we need to know our children’s limits.  They are absolutely in control of their behavior but sometimes, it’s just better to complete your tasks at a different time and play it safe.
3)      Kids emulate what they see and hear, so it’s a good idea to practice what you preach.  If you tell your kids you’re going to take them for ice cream tomorrow, when tomorrow comes, follow through and go.  If the kids are expecting to head to the zoo in the morning and you moan that you are too tired and don’t feel like it, the message is that promises are easily broken and your word doesn’t mean much.  The next time you threaten to take something away due to bad behavior, it won’t mean much either.
Altering the way one parents takes practice and patience.  Be confident and know that you can follow through and in the end, create a better environment for you and your child.  Set realistic expectations and you will see a change in both of you.
Thanks for reading!
Ellie Hirsch