Effective Parenting Tips
(Adapted by Mrs. Judy Smith, STMS School Counselor, from a writing of Marianne Neifert, M.D.)
Humans develop habits without thinking. This is especially true in parenting. If you feel that your parenting habits are not producing the behavior you'd like to see, read on for advice on how to break ineffective habits and replace them with more productive ones.
Turning requests into questions
This is a hard habit to break, especially after years of asking your young child rhetorical questions as a way of making conversation – "How about a little breakfast now? Doesn't that sound good?" Unfortunately, when you ask your child how he feels about doing something, you are actually offering him a choice. Unless you are truly offering him a choice, such ambiguous language is a set up for frustration on both your parts.
Try this instead: State what you want him to do, don't ask. Frame your expectations in a polite, respectful manner by adding "please" and "thank you". For example, "I need you to turn off the TV now and start getting ready, please."
Issuing empty warnings
A good warning can be an effective discipline strategy. Problems develop when you threaten in anger (with yelling), grossly exaggerate ("If you do that again, you'll be grounded for a year"), fail to be specific ("You'll be sorry!") or don't follow through.
Try this instead: Make your warnings more specific and immediate. For example, "This is a warning. If you don't give that toy back to your baby sister, you won't be able to watch TV tonight." Use a calm, firm tone of voice that makes it clear you're in control. If your child still doesn't comply, be consistent and follow through. When your child doesn't receive a consequence (that he's earned) you teach him that your threats are meaningless and that they can be ignored.
Piling on consequences
In a perfect world, imposing consequences on our children would always result in a change in their behavior. In the real world, we know that changing behavior is a process rarely achieved with one intervention. Keep this in mind when imposing consequences for poor behavior. It is tempting to add another punishment if you don't see the response you are looking for ("If taking away your TV privileges doesn't bother you than we'll take away your phone and computer privileges too!"). While it may be necessary to remove multiple privileges if behaviors don't change over time, don't be concerned if you don't see the immediate effect you are looking for. The purpose of a consequence is to show that behavior "A" results in consequence "B". It's the consistency that's important.
Try this instead: Set a time limit or behavioral expectation on your consequence so your child knows he has a chance to succeed in the near future ("No TV or texting privileges until the next Interim Report" or "You can use the phone again after you've done all your chores for five days in a row" or "When your homework average is 90% or above, you can have texting privileges again.")
We all nag, and we all know how fruitless it is. Either your child learns to tune you out or he resorts to lying ("I did wash my hands! Really!!").
Try this instead: Use eye contact and state your expectations as calmly as possible. Fewer words are better. Instead of saying, "How many times do I have to tell you not to eat in the living room?" say, "No eating in the living room." When you yell, your child tends to hear your tone and not the message. This often leads to an angry exchange which directs attention away from what the original request was. Say what you need, just say it calmly. Repeat if necessary. Repeat if necessary. Repeat if necessary. Impose a consequence if necessary – and be sure to follow through.
What's true of nagging is doubly true of yelling – we all do it, and we all feel guilty every time we do. Even if it does occasionally get results, it also teaches your child that it's o.k. to raise his voice when he's angry.
Try this instead: An effective scolding should name the misbehavior at hand. For example, "I am angry with you because you spilled juice in the den and didn't clean it up." Your child needs to know what he's done wrong and will hear your message more if you say it with a calm voice and don't lose your temper.
Apologizing too much
Saying you are sorry when you've made a mistake is an act that can strengthen your bond with your child. But constantly apologizing for the same mistake (like losing your temper) wears thin. It teaches your child that bad behavior is acceptable as long as you apologize for it afterwards.
Try this instead: Make a genuine effort to cut back on, for instance, yelling. There are two parts to an apology – your words (the apology) and your future actions (changes to your behavior). Practice different responses in the mirror when you are calm so that you can draw on them when you are upset with your child. Anger habits are hard to break. With practice, you can learn to respond more effectively.
Giving the cold shoulder
While removing a privilege can be an effective penalty, turning way from your child when she wants to kiss and make up or giving her the silent treatment after she's misbehaved can make her feel unworthy of your love and affection.
Try this instead: Tell your child that you are upset and explain why without overdoing it. Do it calmly without making her feel rejected. Your aim is to make it clear that it's the behavior that's driving you crazy, not her.