12 Tips on How to Be the Parent Your Kids Need.
Recently I was witness to an event that made me want to give a pep talk in the middle of a supermarket, but due to my non-argumentative nature uhm.. ok maybe it was the fact mother looked like someone who just came out from the correctional facility, I decided to keep my opinions to myself. So here I am sharing them with you guys instead, from the confort of my own sofa.
A young girl came into the shop with her son, around six years old, for what looked like daily shopping. Her boy pointed at a bag of jellies, demanding she buys him a pack. When the woman said she won’t because she hasn’t got enough money, he threw the biggest staged tantrum I have seen, and he refused to leave the shop if she didn’t get him what he wanted. She put him under her arm whilst he was still kicking and screaming, and left. I was really impressed, thinking this is exactly what I would do, secretly congratulating her on being so tough, and handing her virtual medal for being tough and an example to all of us, when suddenly the most bizarre thing happened. She came back. Heading straight to the isle where the jellies were, with the boy marching behind her with a winning smile, resembling the child from Omen. I was gobsmacked. Why? How did this happen? She managed to take the spoilt little sh*t out of the store. All that she had to do was to get him into the car and drive back home. Why did she come back to get him what he wants? This is a clear example for him that all he needs to do to get his hands on anything he ever wanted is a tantrum in a public place and a bit of tears. Just a small failure that seems insignificant now, but one that will be shaping his future. Twenty years from now he will be screaming at his partner or kids, thinking that’s the best way to solve all life’s problems. It worked all his life, why wouldn’t it keep on working?
There are many bad parenting habits we could add to the list, but the ones I decided to concentrate on today are the most common and although we all know the repercussions of those behaviours, they are on the rise. Ever experienced kids screaming and running around in the restaurant, whilst parents do nothing? Maybe you have seen mothers (I do apologise ladies, but it’s mainly us) fearlessly protecting their kids, when it’s clear they are in the wrong? We know parenting doesn’t come with the manual and we know the best training is actually doing it, but there are reoccurring patterns we should be able to spot and get under control.
No two families are the same and hopefully none of us will feel like we are guilty of all the points I make below, but if there are more than a half you believe you could improve on, it may be time to sit down and rethink your parenting strategy. Often with good intentions, hopes and desires sabotage our initial plan. Sometimes we’d rather be the good parent than engage in good parenting (guilty). And sometimes the kids are right, we just don’t understand what they are going through. Yes, we have all been there, but how many of us REALLY remember how it feels to be a kid?
Being a parent is a job. It’s like being a celebrity volunteer, everyone judges but no one pays. It’s a job, since we decided we are no longer a “house wife” or a “house husband” but a home-maker. It’s a job and being ambitious individuals I believe we all are, we want to do it to our best abilities. On top of being a job, it’s a lifelong commitment. We may sometimes forget about it, being caught up in daily chores and adventures for half of our adult life. It is easy to fall into habitual behaviour, some of which is unfortunately counterproductive.
In this article, we’ll look at 10 bad habits parents fall into, often without realizing it. Read on to learn their symptoms, as well as tips for breaking them.
1. Stop Acting Like a Servant.
I think giving children responsibility at an early age is great. If you haven’t started trusting your kid with simple tasks like cleaning their room or walking the dog, start now. don’t forget that your job as a parent is to bring up an independent person, who moves out of your house hopefully before the age of twenty five and is fully capable to provide for themselves and their future family. Sparing them chores is counterproductive. Kids need responsibilities to feel mature and part of the family, as well as to develop the skills they’ll need for living on their own.
In her blog, mother of five, Tammi Kauppinen writes:
“Children love to have structure in their lives, they may not always act like they
do, but studies have shown that structure and responsibility are actually two
things that children crave in their daily lives. You can start as early as 18
months of age with responsibility. Now I know that many of you are thinking,
[...] how can an 18 month old learn responsibility? An example of this
is when your child is done playing with something ask them to help you pick it
up. If there are blocks laying on the floor, say, ‘Can you help mommy put one
block in the box?’ Show them what you mean and have them follow your example.
Once your child has done this once, make a big deal out of it. Praise them, clap
for them, give them a high five or a hug. [...]
The key to having a responsible child is having expectations for them. Are they always going to do
what is asked of them? No, but always including them in family duties, not only
teaches them responsibility, but really makes them feel like they are a part of
the family and that they are important to you.”
Parents, however, get used to doing everything for our sons and daughters from the moment we bring them home as infants. It can turn into a habit, which is really hard to break. By the time kids reach their teens, parents can feel overwhelmed, frustrated and resentful toward children who don’t do anything for themselves. We expect them to be able to attend to simple duties like making a sandwich at the age when they could legally drive a car, yet we go to the kitchen frustrated, and make the sandwich anyway. There may be moments, when our anger reaches peak and we explode, telling them to make it themselves, whilst having a mini breakdown. Our kids look at us confused, and rightly so: we have been making sandwiches for years, and now not only we refuse, but we are frustrated and angry? This is an example where one could say: we brought it on ourselves. More often than not, the kid is going to tell us to calm down and go make the sandwich themselves. For some parents, that’s what it takes to make us see that our kids are capable of doing much more for themselves. It’s part of being a kid to learn how to push boundaries and it’s our job to know where to set them and to stick to them.
Chores should be administered at all ages. Tammi suggests 18 months as a ball park to start, but if your kids are older, they can be trusted with more complex tasks, such as helping you fold washing and match socks (simple yet tiresome job I am not a fan but for kids it’s an equivalent of putting puzzles together). Another good example of house tasks is having kids helping you with setting up the dinner table.
Depending on their age, there are endless things you can get kids to help you with. If they are 4-years old and younger, get them engaged in putting (non-breakable) grocery items in the fridge, give them broom and ask them to sweep (they won’t be good at it, but for now just be happy they are doing it and praise them after they finish). If they are five-years-old and older, increase the frequency of their chores. Good examples of things they could do at this age is feeding pets (If you have two kids, make one responsible for always making sure your cat or dog have water in their bowl, and the other one responsible for food), making sure their laundry is in the laundry basket and putting the dirty dishes in the dishwasher or rinsing them / washing them in the sink. You can also get them to prepare the clothes for the next school day, wipe the table tops with a wet wipe.. the possibilities are endless.
You should never feel guilty about requiring kids to do chores; they give children a feeling of responsibility and help build their self-esteem. Regularly handling routine duties makes kids feel like they have an important place in the family. Chores also teach them how to work as part of a group, a skill that will be useful when they start school.
Using a list where they can “tick” the tasks they have done is great because it is visual and it eliminates the “I forgot” excuse. It also helps because without it, we seem to be just nagging every time we mention: “and you forgot to do this..”. Lists are priceless and teach kids how to use them, which is a basic skill for the future that in time will increase their productivity.
Every now and then, you will encounter the “I am doing EVERYTHING in this house” excuse, especially often coming from teens. The best way is to calmly reiterate everyone’s roles in the household: “Mummy brings money and pays for your clothes and food, Daddy cooks, washes and irons and the only thing you need to do is…”
Don’t forget to explain the privileges granted depending on the thorough completion of chores in timely manner. Make sure you are clear about the downsides of being non-cooperative or completing assigned duties poorly. Make sure you are ready to follow through should you need to. If your son or daughter still refuses to pitch in, don’t make a fuss. Calmly remove the specified privilege and explain that it will be returned when he or she regains his or her household work ethic.
Last but not least: don’t forget that chores are NOT a punishment and should never be presented in that way. They give children a sense of belonging and worth, and they teach skills that will help kids enter the world of independence with confidence.
2. Stop Comparing and Criticising Your Kids.
Negative comparison and public shaming are just some of the behaviours identified as verbal abuse. It has been proven that just like physical abuse, it can slow down and negatively affect the brain development of young children. If you serve your teens with phrases like: “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” on regular basis or compare your kid to their friend in unfavourable light, it can cause anger, depression and low self-esteem. It can also affect their ability to maintain stable and happy relationships later on in life.
Bu no means do we aim for that to happen of course. In our eyes acting this way will result in our kids doing or trying to do better, to prove us wrong. Except, it rarely works like that. Those kind of verbal put downs have nothing to do with constructive criticism and kids don’t feel motivated to improve their behaviour, but become introverted instead. Just like adults, when our bosses make a joke out of our performance and efforts in front of other employees, they feel humiliated and betrayed.
If you feel disappointed in a child’s performance, instead of making negative comparisons between your kids or your child and his peers, approach the topic constructively. First, ask them to evaluate their performance themselves with questions like: “Are you happy with how you did?” and “Is there anything you would do differently next time?” Listen to their answers and ask why they feel the way they do and what they learned. Ask how you can help them to reach their goals next time. They may need a temporary tutor to catch up on a subject or maybe they spend less time watching TV and playing computer games.
If you feel like venting, talk to your friends or your partner, but never discuss it in front of your kids, no matter what sort of veiled phrases and code words you use, kids are smart, and you won’t fool them.
3. Don’t Intimidate Your Kids.
The theory of good parenting never mentions screaming and raising your voice as techniques we should master, yet they seem to be widely used by parents around the world. Why? Because we are all emotional creatures and even though the photos of loving families sitting together at the dinner table are something we aspire to, we may sometimes spend more time driving each other crazy than being a poster family. Under stress we can often reach the point, where we catch ourself yelling at an errant child, standing over him or her threatening or poking a finger at the poor kid.
You may achieve your goal short term, because your child is now quiet, but what really happened was you losing control of yourself and the situation. Your child most likely shut the door to their room and with that the immediate conversation between the pair of you has been terminated. Your child is upset and unlikely to feel that you’re open to their input. Whether they deserve it or not, there were probably many better ways to solve the issue. You have just portrayed the worst example of parenting, leadership, handling emotions and problem solving. The good news is, I am yet to meet a parent who has never committed this crime.
Emotions are normal and natural, and everyone experiences the full range, including anger. But just as you want to model good behavior for your child, it’s important to model self-control of emotions. Here are some tips for avoiding the intimidation scene:
- Take a deep breath.
- Counting to 10 can help shift you out of the emotional part of your brain and back into the rational part.
- Sit down. This puts you at eye level with your child, so you’re not looming over him or her.
- Put your hands in your pockets or reach out to hold your kid’s hands. This keeps you from stabbing angry fingers in his or her face.
- Focus on the problem, not your son or daughter.
4. Be a Parent Before Being a Friend.
As cool as you think you are, until your kids have children of their own, it is not very likely you will be friends, and it’s ok. People who are not strong enough to face the responsibility of parenthood tend to fall into the “friend zone” with their kids. It may come as a surprise, but your kids need, want and expect you to be the parent. You cannot simultaneously tell them what to do and be a “mate”. They have friends already. It doesn’t mean you have to be the enemy, it simply means you have to do what is best for them instead of what is easy and comfortable. Beliefnet writes:
“The toughest thing our children face is peer pressure. Growing up is an awkward experience, and the easiest thing to do is blend in and lose your uniqueness. Children look to parents to neutralize the phenomenal pressure they encounter to conform. We are the steel girder that prevents them from buckling under the weight. What happens when we ourselves become weak? Don’t parents realize that one day there will be a day of reckoning? That when our kids get their rebellion out of their system and find themselves screwed-up, lazy adults with no manners, who can’t sustain intimate relationships, they’re going to blame us for their failure? Do you really think that you can be your kids’ friend when they’re adults if you weren’t a parent when they were kids?”
The role of parents is extremely demanding and requires unimaginable level of multitasking. You are the teacher, leader, judge, provider and disciplinarian. There may be times, when your children become enchanted by their friend’s parents and think they are the coolest folks in the universe because they let their friend get the belly button or go shopping unsupervised, but it’s all temporary and deep inside they know what is good for them. Your kids rely on you to take care of them and to be in charge. It gives them sense of safety and stability, both necessary for good and healthy development. It’s no fun being the rules police, but someone’s got to do it, and in this case: it’s you.
Kids are the masters of manipulation. They can sense if you are ridden with guilt. Whether you feel that way because of not spending enough quality time together or bringing them up in a broken relationship, they will swiftly leverage the situations to their benefit. They’ll twist the guilt knife with comments like, “If you were really my friend, you’d . . .” or “If you let me do this, I’ll love you.” When this happens, the relationship is upside down. Your child has taken control, and you’ve lost your parental authority.
Remember your ultimate goal: raising your child into the world as a responsible, successful, independent adult. Active parenting, with all the rules, discipline and the occasional “absolutely not,” are all part of reaching that goal.
It’s not all bad news though. There is an upside to being a parent instead of a friend. When children respect their parents’ authority, they have confidence in their parents’ ability to provide good guidance, which in turn means they listen. They’re also more willing to respect other authority figures, like grandparents and teachers.
The teen world has changed beyond our imagination since the time we were in our kids’ shoes. While we were spending time playing outdoors with friends without trackers and constant supervision due to the pedophile scare potentially hiding behind every corner, doing our homework to our best abilities, the world of today’s teens is not quite the same. The expectations are higher than ever, and should they fail, we struggle to hide disappointment. Our kids, just like us, live in a high-pressure world. Lets not forget the physical changes in body and mind, that begin usually around age 12 and last into their 20s.
There is a lot of truth in them saying we don’t understand their problems, because quite often we simply don’t. The good old advice that starts with “When I was your age..” doesn’t have a lot of relevance these days. Do you remember, when you were a kid, and your friends cyber bullied you by calling you names on Facebook, that were then exposed to not only the bystanders, as it used to be years ago, but hundreds of friends and subscribers. Were you bombarded with images of skinny, fashionably dressed teens popping from the covers of magazines and TV? Did you have to deal with the decision whether to send your new boyfriend a picture of your breasts, because if you don’t, he may not want to date you anymore? What if they have, and the “boyfriend” send the picture via MMS or even worse, posted it to his Facebook? None of those situations sound familiar? Then don’t try to convince your kids you know how they feel, or force your advice on them. All you can do is listen.
Yes, we are older and have more life experience, but when it comes to negotiating the intricacies of middle and high school, your child is the expert.
The temptation to tell your kids how to handle the situation and then expect them to do it your way may be hard to resist.
As with most of things in life, listening may prove much more effective in this situation. Your role as a parent is to help your child get through problems by assisting them in making the right decisions. While you can tell young kids what to do, when it comes to teenagers all you can do is ask. Talk to them about the potential outcome they are trying to achieve and ask them how they want to get to that endpoint. Treat it like a brainstorming session, discuss the possibilities. Asking your kid to analyse pros and cons of potential outcomes lets you get a glimpse into their way of thinking, which in turn may help you understand them better.
During the brainstorming session, make sure you mostly listen and only occasionally ask questions to get more information or if there is an alternative your child forgot about, bring it to the table. If you think you have a valuable point you would like to bring to the discussion, ask your kid first, whether they would like to hear it. This way you don’t come across as a preacher. Make your point briefly. Don’t forget that a child’s concentration span is shorter than yours, and the more you go into detail, the more you are losing their attention. There is also the less likely chance your kid won’t want to hear your opinion on the subject. Don’t take this personally and don’t react aggressively. Do not say: “FINE, deal with it yourself!” You are talking, your child opened up to you. This is more than most parents realise, appreciate it and don’t make a big deal out of the fact your input in the matter is not required this time. They are building their own experiences. Let them learn first hand. It’s a priceless way to remember all life lessons.
6. Stop Giving In to Your Kids.
The story of a woman in a supermarket I outlined at the beginning of this article and which inspired me to write it is a perfect example of parents giving in to kids. Children are the masters of perseverance when they really set their eyes on something.
Years back, I witnessed a funny (from a non-parent point of view) situation. Boy of about four years-old asked his mum: “Can I have an ice cream?”. She refused. To my surprise, he followed up with a very smart come back: “In this case, can I have money for an ice-cream?”
It’s hard to say no to your kids. In an interview with Scott Gerber of Inc magazine, Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia (and one of the most influential investors in America) was asked whether he is going to spoil his kids using the wealth he amassed. Somehow I was hoping for a bit of tough love here, but he said he will be spoiling them instead. We are programmed to give kids what we didn’t get from our parents and make their life easier.
Kids develop the negotiating skills surprisingly early. Before they even form sentences, they can get you to do what they want. This manipulation starts with them crying every time they are being put back into the cot, and carry on throughout the tween years, when negotiating turns into a constant battle. It feels so much easier to just give them what they want, get few minutes of peace and see them happy even just for a short while.
So, if it makes us happy and if it makes kids happy, to give them all they ask for, what’s the problem?
By constantly giving in to pressure from your child, you’ve given up your role as parent. You are no longer the example of leadership and responsible behaviour, but an example of someone who constantly loses their battles (the word “loser” feels harsh, but this is precisely what we are turning into). Your child loses respect for you and starts pushing their luck with more and more outrageous privileges. Because kids are smart, they do it step by step, without you even noticing.
My most current example is the sleep over rule we have with my step-daughter: due to the size of the house and the noise teenage girls can make when grouped together, we do not allow her to have more than two friends staying overnight at any one time. She knows that, but recently she has put a case for having three of her friends staying over: they will clean the whole house, dishes, hoover and even do the ironing (the quality of which still leaves massive space for improvement). Before I even had time to think about it, they were ready with extra duvets and all the pillows they could amass and watching DVD. I broke my own rule and only hoped they will stick to their world the next day and the house would be spotless. I felt suspicious de ja vu of similar situation from couple of months back. I might not have remembered it in detail, but what I do remember was that after fluttering their eye lashes at me to let them sleep over, I was left washing up the next day, and putting the pillows back to where they were. This time wasn’t much different. They were all gone bowling by the afternoon with one of the other “designated babysitters” while the house was left not much different from how they found it. The negotiating skills of a teenager in need, mixed with four pairs of begging eyes were too strong to resist, but I have learned my lesson.
The situation was bound to happen again and it did. Wiser due to the past experience, I asked them to give me a reason why I would let them stay and make a mess again. The answer: “because you love us” cropped up, but I got straight down to business: “The dog needs to go for a walk, dishes need doing, backyard needs sweeping, house needs hoovering. Do all of those thoroughly and you can have your friends around.” This time it worked like a dream. Teens like limits and rules. They live for breaking them, but when you have no rules, your kids don’t know where they stand. Be flexible on some rules where there is a trade off. Teach them nothing in life is for free. This will serve them well in the future.
Should you be flexible on all the rules? On some points, like expanding certain limits, negotiating and coming to a mutually agreeable compromise is the best route. On others, parents must be a brick wall. When the short answer to a certain request is “no,” and the long answer is “no way,” make it immediately clear to your child that you’re not budging on this issue and they need to move on. This quick and simple “no” saves a lot of agony for both of you, and it eliminates your child getting his or her hopes up, only to have you dash them later on.
7. Slow down.
Is your child’s schedule busier than pre-election calendar of Barack Obama? Do you see your kid less often than your partner, because most of the time he or she is busy with anything from art lessons to karate? This behaviour is what is now called “first child syndrome” and is far from healthy. Pressure you put on your offspring and the weight of your expectations can cause them to get depressed later on in life. It’s a tough call. Exposure to good things helps children develop healthy interests and lifestyles, but there can be too much of a good thing.
On the surface, we are trying to teach our kids’ independence, and give them a chance to make new friends, however more often than we care to admit, we put our kids into activities that we always wanted to do.
There is also another school of thought: kids busy with productive activities stay off the streets and don’t have time to get into trouble. We forget that children are only a younger, less experienced people, and they can get tired and stressed to. This in tern increases the cases of depression, headaches and (yes) decline in grades.
As cliche as it sounds, sometimes the time you spend together simply doing nothing, is more valuable for the child, than keeping them busy even with things they enjoy.
8. Teach Your Kids the value of money.
When I was 13, my parents had a clothing shop. There was a dress that me and my best friend really liked, and just like teens these days, I was convincing my mum I will do anything for it. I didn’t want to leave my friend behind, so I was trying to convince my mum we both desperately need it. My mum is one of the wisest women I know, and unlike me, she doesn’t cave in lightly when exposed to the flutter of eyelashes and begging stares. She told me and my friend that if we come every day after school and spend an hour cleaning the floors and the shelves in the shop thoroughly, she will pay us country average hourly rate and at the end of the week we will both be able to buy ourselves a dress from the money we earn. The trick was, we cannot miss a single day, because the deal was only on for a week and if we worked less than five days, we wouldn’t have saved enough to buy the dresses.
I have never worked so hard in my life. Not because it was particularly hard job, but because I knew our friends are doing things that were much more fun. We saw them walking past the shop, waving at us, then going to the town centre to have fun skateboarding and smoking sneaky cigarettes (yup, at the age of 13 it did sound cool, although I never picked up the habit, but back then boys with fags in their mouth at that age looked rather attractive to us). We were “slaving” for 60 minutes every day for a week. On the last day, my mum, instead of handing us the dresses, handed us the money to buy them. Having all that cash in our hand made us think twice whether to spend it on the dresses or save it for something bigger. What was a no-brainer just a few days before, suddenly became a tough decision. We ended up buying the dresses, but the lesson stayed with me from that moment, and since then, knowing that money and getting things mean hard work, I rarely asked mum to buy me things, unless I really needed them. Fashion changed, I moved more than 10 times since then, but I still have that dress in my wardrobe, because it reminds me that nothing in life is for free.
There are many parents who do too much for their children; they buy everything the kid desires. Must have gadgets and fashion accessories and new hip brands pop up as quickly as weeds after rain. Kids are convinced they desperately need ALL of those things, but they get bored almost as soon as they unwrap the box. We all know that money doesn’t buy happiness, so why do we keep keep doing it?
I am a great believer in pocket money. Make it clear to your offspring what it is that you are responsible for (food, shelter), and give them cash for things that they want, but not necessary need. If you want to be really creative, pay them basic pocket money and extra (we would call it commission for extra chores. Make sure they get the pocket money on regular basis. You will notice sudden shift. Things that used to be the must-haves, suddenly become less important.
9. Give Your Kids Space.
You spend the first year of your child’s life constantly protecting, feeding, rocking, changing and soothing them. Time passes and your offspring says their first words, learns how to play football, and not much time passes before you see them getting ready for their school prom. It can feel a little unsettling when they start relying on their friends advice, before (if) they reach for yours.
As kids mature, they not only want, but need more space, they need to figure things out on their own before they discuss them with you. There are many things they don’t and won’t want to discuss with you and you have to respect that. You need to step back, and keep your protectiveness at bay. It can be hard to accept your child’s growing independence and even harder to relax your need to protect him or her.
Maturity takes years, guidance and encouragement to develop. The more you interfere with your child’s freedom, the longer it will take to fully develop this trait. Also, if you step back to view your parent-child relationship from perspective, you will be able to see when your offspring is ready to increase his or her level of responsibility and independence. This needs to be done gradually, otherwise if you just drop the fence and remove all boundaries, it can be frightening and what’s worse: it can imply you no longer care. Reevaluate the boundaries regularly to adjust them to you child’s level of maturity.
Suffocating your kid’s independence is almost guarantee to give you the exact opposite result than the one anticipated. That’s how rebels are born.
10. Set Limits.
Part of your job as a parent is letting your kids know which behaviours are acceptable and which aren’t. These limits are not only essential for safety reason, but also help children feel secure and cared for. Boundaries (or more often stretching them) can help your kids develop a sense of responsibility for their actions.
Just like responsibilities around the house, limits shouldn’t be viewed as negatives, but expectations and behavioural guidelines. Children raised without boundaries and limits often deliberately misbehave in an effort to find someone who cares enough to draw a line.
You may be reading this and thinking: I haven’t implemented any boundaries when my kid was young, and now I see the side effects, but it is too late now to turn their world upside down. Nothing further from the truth.
I met my step daughter three years ago when she 11. I was convinced she was the sister of Damian from the movie Omen. She avoided daily showers and had never done a single chore in her life. Being asked to do simple things, like go to bed on time, always resulted in cry, traumas and door slamming. Her grandparents treated her like a five-year-old, and she didn’t have a problem with that, since this always got her all the newest toys and gadgets. Her dad was too busy with work and chose to throw money at the problem, and she didn’t mind that either. Or so he and everyone else had thought. Then I moved in.
Being brought up in a close knit family, with religious grandmothers who were trying to ingrain values in me and my sister from a very young age. From polishing our own shoes to making sure our clothes are always pristine and personal hygiene is next to none, we grew up knowing good from bad, and sticking up with what we believe in and respect for money and work. Some of the most important life skill I took from the family home were respect for others and manners. I never raised my voice at people older than me. Thinking about it now, we resembled a victorian family in some ways.
My first few weeks were the eye opening time. I knew the situation, before moving in, and it wasn’t a surprise that from now on I am going to share my life not only with my boyfriend, but also with his teenage daughter, but knowing the theory and being presented with the day-to-day realities of it was a totally different matter. I was not prepared to let this continue. The price to pay was high though: if I start changing the order of things, I will be hated. I will be the enemy, who came and destroyed the peace. For some reason, I decided that long term, stirring things a little will bring a better outcome than leaving things as I found them, and I am glad I did.
By no means was it easy. We argued a LOT. I said things I am not proud of, she was mouthy, when there was no need for it and kept fighting every step of the way, but somehow I knew she secretly wants those limits. We talk a lot, about everything and nothing. We are still working on things, and there are slips on both sides, as neither of us is perfect, but based on this experience I can say with conviction: even if your child is now a teen, and you would like to implement some ground rules, don’t dwell on it. Talk to your kid. Explain in plain English why those rules are necessary and what exactly you want them to do. Be patient. It will take time and firmness and perseverance for both you and your child to learn to stick to the new boundaries.
Don’t try to implement hundreds of different rules at once, settle for just a few at the beginning; keep them clear and basic. This will make it easier for both of you. Don’t suddenly start saying NO to everything. This will alienate your child pretty quickly, “Yes, under one condition..” is much better, if you are new to the world of rule setting.
11. Follow through.
There is no point in writing an elaborate list of rules and regulations, if you don’t follow through. Kids specialise in pushing the boundaries, and they will experiment to see just how serious you are about those rules. As a parent, your job is to make sure that doesn’t happen. When the rules are broken, your words lose their power and the respect they had for you is fizzling like a well shaken bottle of bubbly. If you respect yourself, you will follow through to make sure your kid sticks to the rules you have both set.
You need to be clear as to the consequences of breaking those rules. The problem is, parents don’t really want to punish their kids, and kids know that. Quite often when they do, the guilt kicks in, and the apologies that were due from a child come from the parent. I am not advocating being a robot, and never apologising your kids for your behaviour, especially if the apologies are due. What I am saying is that punishment is a necessary part of the training program, and if you want to achieve any progress in teaching your kids anything, you need to be ready to take that step.
Different things work for different kids. Sometimes stopping the pocket money will not be as successful as downgrading their mobile phone. We have done that, and I have got to say, I regret that Jimmy Kimmel’s camera wasn’t around when this happened.
Our teen constantly suffered with “mobile deafness”. Even though her phone was on contract, and never out of “credit”, somehow she always struggled to answer messages telling us what time we can expect her for dinner. The excuses were always different: “the battery was flat”, “I had no signal”, “I thought I have messaged you back”, “I have messaged you back, I don’t know why you didn’t get it”. It got boring. We decided to try a punishment to make her realise this is serious, and that as rarely as we text her, we expect an answer every time.
We have managed to find the most un-cool phone on the planet. Even though we knew she is not going to be impressed, I don’t think either of us could predict what has followed.
The ugly device was ready in the office drawer for the final straw in the no-response drama we had going on for months. We didn’t have to wait long. After coming back from school, we call the mobile of our victim (surprisingly she answered) and asked her to come visit us in the office, just a stone throw away from home. When she opened the door, we presented her proudly with the box. Unsure what is happening, she looked at the cover, then at us, and mumbled: “You have got to be kidding me.” When the fact she is no longer going to stroll down the school corridors with the latest inventions from Apple, but a brick instead, she fell to the floor, on her knees, and started crying. It was more than cry. The cat being skinned alive would have made less noise. She begged us not to do it, and still on the floor, started rolling around like someone with an epileptic fit, crying louder and louder.
We stayed strong and the fact that as of the following day, she will have no way of sending picture messages and only 3 options of a ringtone, sounding more like an alarm, slowly sunk in. She started crying again, when she found out, that instead of Spotify, she is now the proud owner of a phone with built-in radio, an S.O.S. button and an inbox that can hold a maximum of 50 messages.
I was very impressed with how she embraced the situation. The evening was spent manually entering all the contacts from her now “old” phone, which was confiscated and locked away. The problem of being too busy to answer messages got eradicated. By following through with the punishment, we also got the credibility we needed when additional chores were implemented. There was no need to repeat twice that things need to happen “or else..”. She has already experienced the side effects of not listening and she didn’t want to see what other creative ideas we had in store for her.
This method can be used with younger kids as well, but instead of taking away their mobile, you could take away their favourite toy, until they start behaving.
Never threaten your kids with a punishment if you are not ready to follow through. It gives your kid no incentive to follow through with what is expected of them if there are no repercussions. If you repeatedly inform them about the privileges that are going to be taken if they do not do what is asked of them, but then repeatedly avoid to follow through and disciplin them, your child’s behaviour may become worse.
Never expect your child to do something you are not willing to do. Set the limit, communicate the consequences and then calmly follow through when your kid steps out of line.
12. Be consistent.
This is one of the most important traits of a good parent and a key to well-behaved children. Your kids won’t fail to pull you on it, if you are not consistant: “Last time you caught me smoking a cigarette, I got grounded for a week, and now you say nothing?”
By always knowing the potential outcome of their actions, it makes the child’s world predictable and less confusing. It frees their minds of worry what might happen and teaches them accountability for their actions.
In another scenario, parents may tell their children they’ll do something for them or with them, and then don’t. This very frustrating and disappointing when happens to us in our adult world. Why would we teach kids this behaviour at their young age already?
Both of these are examples of failure to follow through. Not being consistent deals with discipline; the second is a broken promise. The outcome, however, is the same. When you don’t do what you told your child you would do, you become someone he or she can’t rely on and eventually trust.