Every parent wants to know the fastest and easiest way to change a child’s undesired behavior. I can offer some tried and true tips, but they are neither fast nor easy. Simply, if something you tried with your child to change his/her behavior didn’t work the first time, don’t repeat that method a second time. What, then, is a parent to do? Listen up and read on: Never speak or act during the heat of anger. Breathe. Give space or walk away. Listen with an open mind. Ask you child’s opinion re: punishment.
In the heat of the moment
All too often, an angry parent makes a declaration that simply bites the parent before “it’s” all over. Beware declarations such as, “You’re grounded for a month! No TV. No phone. No friends over. No Facebook. No going out. Your life is now MINE!!” In reality, however, your child’s life as now truly become yours in its ability to completely imprison YOU. You have just effectively given away your own much-needed time for space from your child. You’ve given away invitations you would like to accept for evenings away. (You can’t be “away” and monitor “here” at the same time.) You’ve put yourself in a self-imposed prison. Very early into the grounding period of time, you secretly wish you had been less hasty as well as less adament about the terms of the grounding. A month stretches before you like an eternity. A few days or even a week suddenly seems more reasonable for YOU to live with. You want to “change the rule…revise the limits.” However, do that, and your consistency comes into question. You feel foolish. You feel like a child yourself. In the eyes of your child, you could easily appear as an ineffective, wish-washy parent unable to set reasonable limits. “Could a week or just a few days have delivered the same impact?” you begin to wonder. You’re stuck between the proverbial “rock and hard place.”
In the heat of the moment, relaxation breathing can lessen the “pressure,” but it will also lessen the sheer joy of exercising your authority. There is a trade-off necessary. Deep breathing has been proven to lower blood pressure. That vein that noticeably throbs when you “lose it?” It settles down, too. Close your eyes or practice the breathing enough times to do with your eyes wide open: Breathe deeply…breathe in…breathe out. Repeat until you feel your body’s calming mechanism take over. Suddenly, with the flames of anger assuaged, the situation at hand presents itself more clearly, in better perspective.
Give space or walk away
A wise counselor once told me, “You are the adult. If you feel yourself losing control, remove yourself from the situation. Walk away. Go to your room. If necessary, get in the car and take a ride. Your child may prefer to continue nose-to-nose, in-your-face combat, but it’s time to regain control of the situation. I recall trying to drag my daughter up the stairs and into her bedroom. Not a pretty sight. She was stronger than I and was using all of her strength to resist me. I felt foolish and could foresee the outcome, but pride wouldn’t allow me to retreat. In retrospect, pride should have taken a backseat to common sense, and I would never have engaged in a “power play” – ever! Today, I know better, but that was then, and this is now!
Listen with an open mind
When you rejoin your child, resist your impulse to lecture and scold. Young people have perfected the technique of “turning off” the words of a repeated lecture. They simply don’t pay attention to or even hear/take in what you’re working yourself into a lather to get across. Instead, ask your child if he/she has anything to say regarding the situation at hand. Listen without interrupting. I repeat, listen without interrupting. The respect you give will be respect returned a thousandfold. Ask questions for clarification. Accept an apology if one is forthcoming.
Ask your child’s opinion
This may be your most difficult task as it is one that parents fear will totally undermine their “rights,” their “authority.” I suggest, instead, that listening to your child’s opinion will strengthen your authority and model preferred, rational, respected authority. Before declaring your child’s punishment, ask your child to suggest penalties befitting the offense. “Aren’t I giving the offender too great an advantage?” you might question. I think not. Soliciting punishment ideas from your child doesn’t make the offending behavior more or less offending. What is says to you child, however, is “I think you may be the better judge of what kind of penalty would make the most lasting impression on you and make it less likely for you to repeat that poor behavior.” This technique gives the “feel” of power to the offender while the real power remains with the wise parent. The result can be the avoidance of the fight and flight reaction so common in this typical parent/child interaction.
The “feel” of the above discipline techniques will seem foreign but don’t confuse foreign with being “wrong.” Any change in repeated behavior patterns, be it the child’s or the parent’s, will cause some unease. That is the nature of change, One’s psyche seeks the familiar. Only practice and good intentions can transform something negative into something positive, something worth repeating. Something that has the feeling of win/win to all participants in the disagreement. And a win/win, by defintion, does not have a loser. And no one likes to lose…not a parent nor a child. If the desired change in behavior occurs, you have just discovered an approach to discipline that could replace your old, ineffective technique. Look at the process. Examine the differences. The benefits await your claim.