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!

Disclosure: All links to books are Amazon affiliate links.

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33 Responses

  1. This could not be a more timely post! We’re having major bickering problems and today it was at its worst. I’m going to try the 5 & 10 minute punishments. I’d tried sending them to their rooms for arguing but I’m going to add the 10 minutes for whining OR EXPLAINING WHY IT WASN’T THEIR FAULT.

  2. Great post, Jo-Lynne! What is it about that third child (or that second daughter?!?) that makes them such a fiesty one? I never had to deal with temper tantrums either until she came along. 🙂

    Love the “five minutes” idea to control the bickering. I’m definitely going to try that, because there are days the bickering sends me out of my mind.

  3. I have to agree with the second daughter idea. I’ve never had issues with my first one throwing a fit. She generally complies with the rules. The second one however, she is another story. I just wanted to add one thing to your tips for stopping a tantrum. We have one hard and fast rule about them: If you throw a fit, you absolutely may not have what you wanted. Our fits usually revolve around clothing. When she decides to throw a fit because I won’t let her wear a dress, for example, I make it very clear that not only will she not be able to wear a dress, I will be picking out her clothes and she will have to wear what I pick. This usually works. I calmly put her clothes on her bed and walk out of the room. She is not allowed to come out of her room until she is wearing said clothes and she may not change them for the rest of the day.

    Since we have that rule, any time she starts to throw a fit, all I have to say is “what’s the rule about throwing fits?” and she magically calms down. Crazy, but it works!

    Thanks for this series Jo-Lynne! It’s really helpful!

    1. Yes, absolutely. That’s one thing I have always been careful about. And I’ll say, “You know I can’t give you what you want when you act that way.” Often that’s enough to get her to calm down and rephrase her request nicely.

  4. These are really awesome tips. I send Baby Girl to her room, but I think I wait too long to do it. I love the “take the temper/whining to your room.” I’m going to keep doing it, but try to enforce it earlier than I do now.

  5. Great post! This is my first discovery of your blog. I found it when looking for a tutorial on how to make blog buttons, and realized there is a lot more to your blog I like!

    It is wonderful to “meet” another Christian mom. Stop by for my first blog party (UBP) if you can!

    Have a blessed week!

  6. We’re having bickering issues here as well. Over spring break, however, I took the girls to the zoo and we had the Perfect day. Perfect. Every little thing was perfect and wonderful and it made me want to cry with joy. I talked to them about it on the way home, how wonderful that day was and how I’d like every day to be that way. It hasn’t been perfect since, but it has been better. I think I’ll try the 5 minute talk. I send them to their room for meltdowns, but I’ve never tried it for arguing.


  7. My 3rd is the “worst” as well. Tantrum-wise, he’s a doozy. He’s only two, though, and when I put him in his bed, he just usually comes out. Any suggestions?

    1. Sari, the only thing I know to do is to lock the door from the outside, and stay nearby and let him get his tantrum out, then be ready to open the door when you hear him settle down. I never had to resort to that, though, so I can’t say I’d be totally comfortable with that. The other option is just to hold him until he calms down. I used to do that with my daughter but I think she really responds to that, and many kids would rebel against it.

    2. One of mine was like this at this age. It’s exhausting! Schedule time for a bubble bath every day! 😉 Here’s what we did that seemed to work a little bit:

      If he is disobeying you by coming out, then you can add a real time-out for the disobedience. And for that you can do the SuperNanny techique of you just take them back to the time out spot over and over and over and over until they sit there quietly for the number of minutes you require (typically the one minute per age). It may take a sweet forever the first few times, but they do learn. My child only disobeyed once or twice and then learned to stay in their room until they had calmed down.

  8. Thank you, THANK YOU for writing about tantrums! I need this advice BIG TIME! I’m actually printing off this post and taking it home for my husband to read, too. We’ve been struggling so badly with our daughter (2 1/2). Thanks, Jo-Lynne.

    1. You will be very interested in the “tantrum spot” technique. I’ll post about it later this week!

  9. I loved this, I really did. Even though my kid is only 6 months old, the actual parenting part of being a parent is already starting to scare me. I have no idea how to ‘discipline’. I think I much prefer the just keeping her fed and dry part of parenting.

    Thanks for sharing this. I want to bookmark it and come back to it in about a year.

  10. Thank you for this post! My two year old is a handful, and I deal with a lot of whining and tantrums – this was a good reminder of how I actually should be handling them!

  11. Great post. One thing I believe in though is not parenting by simply teaching the kids the consequences of their behavior, but instilling underlying character and conscience reasons for it. In our house everything is built around the value of honoring one another, and it rewards good behavior as much as deals with bad behavior. Teaching things like compassion and honesty, etc in ways other than “I shouldn’t do this or that because it makes mom or dad unhappy”. A great book on this is called “Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining and Bad Attitudes in you and your kids” by Turansky and Miller. Biblically based but widely applicable.

    1. Yes, I agree. Sometimes I will give a brief (I try to keep it short and to the point) explanation of why they are not allowed to do something, but I find that a better time to discuss the character and conscience is after the fact, when we aren’t in the middle of the discipline.

      I will check out that book. It sounds great, as those are some of the major challenges we have around here right now.

  12. Ooooh, I’ll have to go back and read more of this series. This is all so very helpful and might I add timely! One of my kiddos is insanely strong-willed. Unfortunately, putting that child in that child’s room doesn involve locking the door most of the time. We wait until he calms down and sometimes that takes a loooong time.
    Recently, my biggest wake up call as a parent has been the realization that I don’t just want my kids to know what the right thing to do is, I want them to want to do the right thing. Knowing that definitely makes me parenting much more purposeful!

  13. I’m loving this series. I agree with all the points you are making and always have, but I am LOVING having some new practical ideas of what the consequences should be. Because I suck at being creative about that, esp. in the moment that it is happening!

    So, I have a question and am wondering if the book you are referencing has an idea. 🙂 I looked at my library but they don’t have it, and we don’t have the extra money at the moment to get it.

    My Little Man is my fit thrower. Most of the time, I handle it exactly like you do with your third. If he can be alone for a few minutes, then he calms down and comes back.

    The problem is during our school time. For example, today I’m trying to read them something, and he is having a fit saying he is hungry. I told him when we would eat (same as every other day), and he proceeds to have a meltdown.
    So, I have two choices:
    1. try to read over his screaming
    2. send him away, but he is supposed to be listening too for his school time so his sister and I are left waiting.

    Neither works. One is impossible and two puts me and his sister in the inconvenient spot, when it should be him. Plus, he is not overly in a hurry to come back to schoolwork. I do put him on the uninteresting stairs rather than in his room, but still. I hadn’t thought of having him sit 5 minutes after he is quiet – that might help the stalling if he thinks he HAS to sit there. 🙂

    Anyway, any ideas of what to do when you need their attention but they are having a fit? I think he has learned that having a fit gets him out of school time for a few minutes.

    1. Well, my first thought is that he has to make up school time when the others are playing? Would that work?

  14. This is great! We do some of these things already, but not always consistently. Husband and I need to talk more in advance about what will work and what won’t.

    Sometimes I think the misbehavior/bickering comes from a need to reconnect with us. They just don’t know how to say it. They need help being together in a nice way, and they need more of us.

    And my 5th is my tantrum thrower, although hers are still pretty mild compared to some of the ones I’ve seen! 🙂

  15. I love this post and am so enjoying your series. I have been an avid Love & Logic parent and can tell you it works!!! But I’m glad to have some other book recommendations that follow the same philosophy. As a parent you cannot have enough tricks in your arsenal, you know?

    Also, I’ve found I need refreshers or I slowly get away from using the techniques and then the behavior starts to slide again. Usually I re-read Love and Logic and then figure out what I’m doing wrong to parent the kid issue that is frustrating me so much.

  16. Oh lordy, lordy, I could have used this today. Thanks for the timely post. I always appreciate sound parenting advice. I’ve placed the books on hold at the library. THANK YOU!

  17. Loving this series – you must have somehow already met my kids!

    Reassuring to know kids are the same the world over!!!

  18. Jo-Lynne,
    I am so glad I came across your blog. This particular topic speaks to my heart right now. Most of the time, our girls (10 and 7) get along beautifully, but there are more times lately during which they want to really get under each others’ skin and begin bickering. I am going to use your 5 minute/10 minute technique starting today!

  19. I have only been reading blogs since Jan. of 2010. Many I do not even finish reading the first post because it is not at all informative, entertaining nor worth my time. Now, your posts are simply wonderful on all aspects! Your good advice will not help me with my own kids but I will be using it while caring for my five grandkids from time to time. Looking forward to reading more from your series.
    Lorna d’Entremont

  20. There is so much great information in this post, Jo-Lynne. (Really, the whole series is packed with value.) I’ve been thinking about it the past 2 days as I’ve gone about my work.

    My issue right now is with my six-year-old son. He’s more like your third – prone to outbursts and temper tantrums. Reading your post made me think I need to get back to IMMEDIATE consequences. No more warnings or “looks” or rationalizations. It’s hard, because I’m hugely pregnant, to deal when he’s being defiant. (Carrying a kicking, screaming six-year-old upstairs to his room for a time-out when he refuses to go is TOUGH.) But things can’t continue this way.

    Maybe you’ll address this in a future post, but I’m curious how parents deal with bad attitudes when they aren’t accompanied by blatant disobedience. My son grumps at me all day. “What if we have popcorn for an after-school snack?” “Umph! I hate popcorn!” The core of the problem is disrespect, whining and having a myopic view on himself only. But it’s harder to teach, “You don’t have to like or want popcorn. But you can’t talk to me that way” than it is to say, “Pick up your toys.”

    1. Hm. I actually deal with that type of thing in a similar way. “You may take that tone of voice to your room for five minutes. I’ll let you know when five minutes is up, and if you can come back down and speak to me kindly, the way I’m speaking to you, then we will try again.”

      Of course then you may have to carry a screaming, kicking child up to his room. When I was pregnant, I was miserable, so I can’t imagine trying to enforce new rules at this point. But on the other hand, once the baby comes, you will need his cooperation so maybe now is a great time to start? Ugh. ((hug))

      My pet peeve is at the dinner table when a child says they don’t like something, and they say it in a way that is insulting and rude. We have discussed over and over that they don’t say that, they just take a bite and then they aren’t forced to eat anything. I’ve started sending them away from the table (again, 5 min in their rooms) for that b/c I really want to break the habit. It drives me nuts. At some point, they will lose dinner for it. But I have a REALLY hard time allowing a child to skip a healthy meal so I usually make it only part of the time and then allow them to eat.

  21. I can’t STAND whining and have always said “I don’t understand whining, can you try again?” and it works like a charm. I also hate the baby talk…grinds on me like no tomorrow. I am going to try this with it this afternoon.

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