Raising Responsible Kids: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Raising-Responsible-KidsWe’ve all heard the mother in the grocery store yelling at Tommy to get back here.  And to GET BACK HERE NOW OR YOU’RE GONNA BE IN BIG TROUBLE WHEN WE GET HOME!  While Tommy laughs and runs further into the racks of clothing.  Heck, we’ve all probably BEEN that mother at one time or another.

Why is Tommy laughing?  He doesn’t take his mother’s threat seriously.  Remember Rule #5 — no idle threats.

In New Parent Power, John Rosemond says that “good communication will prevent up to 90% of behavior problems, but the remaining 10% require that the child experience consequences.” So for our communication to be effective, it must be backed with action.

I can communicate my expectations beautifully, but if I fail to follow through, I lose it all.  I’m great at doing this.  I communicate what I expect clearly, concisely, and calmly.  But if my instructions aren’t acted upon, rather than implementing a consequence immediately, I repeat my expectations, nag, and eventually raise my voice.  I’m frustrated and confused when my instructions don’t get obeyed, and I’ve realized that it is because I don’t act to enforce my expectations until it’s too late.

Kids quickly learn how far they can push their parent into action.  Unfortunately, they often learn that it isn’t until the parent gets angry that they will actually act.  If you act well before it gets to that point, then it will never get there.

Example #1: Whining. I no longer get perturbed with whining because I don’t wait until I’m about to climb a tree to take action.  As soon as I start to hear that grating sound emit from my 4-year-old’s sweet lips, I say calmly, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand whining.  Can you say that again?”  If it continues, I simply say kindly and without emotion, “You may take your whining to your room.  When you’re ready to talk to me like I’m talking to you, you may come down and try again.”

I don’t think I’ve ever had to enforce putting her in her room.  She usually rephrases her question immediately.  If she does throw a fit, well, see example #3.

Example #2: Bickering. If you have multiple children, chances are you have bickering.  One day when everything was peace and harmony (Rosemond calls this “striking when the iron is cold”) I took the girls aside and said, “Mommy does not like it when you argue and fight.  It hurts my ears.  So I want you to know that the next time you start to argue, I will send you both to your rooms for five minutes.

Note:  I explain this in a calm, sing-songy voice with a smile on my face.

“When I say, ‘Five minutes,’ then you are both to go to your own rooms.  I will set the timer and let you know when you can come back and join the family.  Do you understand?”

They did.

“Furthermore,” I intoned, “if you fuss or complain about going to your room, OR if you try to explain to me why the argument is not your fault, then you will get TEN minutes in your room.  There will be no warnings and no second chances.   Got it?”

They did.

Sure enough, not more than ten minutes passed before I started to hear an argument heat up.  I waited until it was full blown, just in case there was a chance that it might get worked out harmoniously, but it did not.  So I looked over from my post preparing dinner and said cheerfully, “Five minutes!”

They looked at me a minute, presumably to gauge whether or not I meant business.

I did.

The older of the children went upstairs without a fuss.  The younger decided to whine.

“Okay,” I shrugged.  Ten minutes.”  And I went back to shredding carrots.

The whining turned into outrage, which brings me to example #3.

But before we get to #3, I should tell you that the first evening I implemented the 5 minutes for every argument, I noticed an immediate change in the way they dealt with one another.  After the second time, they started trying to work things out.  Now they negotiate like pros, and I rarely send them to their rooms for arguing.  Every once in a while, they need a friendly reminder (and by reminder, I mean that I immediately put them in their rooms, not that I remind them that I will put them in their rooms and give another chance.)  But the constant bickering and arguing SEEMS to be a thing of the past.

We even did the 5 minute thing in the car on our last road trip.  Every time they fought or got too loud, they had to spend 5 minutes being silent.  If they broke the silence, we added on another minute.  It worked beautifully on the way down, but on the way home we finally resorted to taking the last hour of the trip in silence.  It was the most glorious hour of the whole trip, let. me. tell. YOU.

Example #3: Temper Tantrums. I never had much trouble with tantrums until my third came along.  With my first two, I just said in a deadly calm voice with The Look (that’s The Look that means business): “No temper.”  I may have swatted a diaper-clad behind once or twice along with those words, but that was it.  Seriously.  Did I ever think I was the stellar parent.

Then child #3 came along, and oh. my. WORD.

I generally ignore a temper tantrum, or I put her in her room, or sometimes I just pick her up and hold her until she calms down.  But I didn’t have a fool-proof method, and the tantrums were actually getting worse, not better.  But now they are in the past.  Well, for the most part.

Now I simply say, “You may take your temper to your room.”  Which NEVER works at first.  But I’ve calmly laid out my expectation.  The theory is, I can’t stop a child from throwing a tantrum, but I can determine where she throws her tantrums, and they should not inconvenience me.

If the tantrum continues, and it always does, I wait till she takes a breath and I say, “You can take yourself to your room, or I can take you.”  If the tantrum continues, and it usually does, although she’s learning (bwaa-haaa-haaa!) I calmly pick her up and carry her, flailing arms and legs and all, to her room and place her on her bed.  Then I say, “You may come downstairs when you are ready to be sweet.”  And I leave.

If she were to follow me, which she never has, I would tell her that she can have her door open or closed.  That almost always works for fussing at bedtime, by the way, because she HATES to have her door closed.

Parenting With Love And Logic suggests actually locking her in her room if she were to try to open the closed door, but we do not have locks on our kids’ doors, and fortunately we haven’t needed them.  For the record, the authors recommend that you stay nearby, listening, and check back in when it quiets down.  They do NOT suggest that you abandon a child locked in his/her room.  They also recommend having them stay in the room for 5 minutes of quiet after the temper dies down.  I choose not to enforce this.  I let mine come down once they are ready to be civil, and it seems to be working.

There are many more such examples in Rosemond’s New Parent Power of ways to nip negative behaviors in the bud.  He also has a twist on the tantrum issue that I will share in a separate post.  But the basic protocol is the same in each instance:

1) Set expectations clearly and calmly and with authority.

2) When the line is crossed, act immediately and without emotion or anger.

3) Do not warn, do not nag, do not wait for the problem to escalate.  Simply implement the consequence.  It does not always have to be the same consequence, and they do not have to be warned what the consequence will be.

4) Do not argue.  Do not negotiate.  Do not explain your reasons.  Do not entertain discussion.  Period.

If you must discuss the situation, do so after the discipline is over and everyone is calm and willing to listen to one another, and keep it brief.  But remember, children do not necessarily need to understand the whys and wherefores.  And in many cases, they simply cannot.  They just need to trust that we love them and we are doing what we believe is best for them, and they will understand when they have children of their own.

Rosemond suggests prefacing an explanation with this simple truth, “I don’t expect you to agree.  On the other hand, don’t expect me to change my mind.”  And when the arguments arise, which they likely will, simply reply with, “As I said, I didn’t expect you to agree.  And I’m not changing my mind.”

End of discussion.

See all posts in this Raising Responsible Kids series.

Disclaimer: I am by NO MEANS a parenting expert of any sort.  I am just sharing some things I’m learning as I navigate the muddy waters of motherhood.  I figure, if they work for me, they may work for someone else.  Good luck!

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