Eli is quite clear that he is a pretty important person. At six and the youngest of four, he’s used to those around him just stopping short of bowing down to him. Answering his every wish goes without saying. When he was two and oh-so-cute, he was irresistible. Now that four years have passed and he’s a normal school-boy with homework and schedules, cuteness has to take a back seat to responsibility, sharing, and kindness. He may be a child of the King, but he is definitely not the King.
The problem is, he doesn’t know that – yet.
How can his kindly and loving parents get this kid to listen and cooperate while maintaining their sanity? As my children were growing up, I tried four strategies that worked very well and I am happy to share them with you.
Strategy #1: Have a sense of humor.
You can tell me that certain people are born with a sense of humor and others are a bit more serious. Listen, I get that. I was always the serious one and that’s because I came from such a serious family that they didn’t even see the value in having newspapers with comics. They bought the Sunday Times and when I complained that there were no comics, they kind of waved me off.
In spite of this, there is an easy solution to learning to take everything more lightly. Just look around you at people you know – people with children who are challenged medically or mentally, people who have lost a loved one, people with deficits they can’t overcome – and compare your own “issue” and you will see that your situation is not as bad as you thought after all.
You see, once you’ve gotten out of seeing your situation from within the dark place you think you’re in and you climb out of that hole and recognize that others have it much worse, you get some perspective. This perspective, in turn, enables you to see the humor in your circumstances. This prepares you for the next strategy.
Strategy #2: Create a program of discipline.
Discipline is not:
- attacking the child
- defending your position
Rather, discipline is setting up desired behaviors in a clear way with natural consequences following them. Including your child in the planning and getting his agreement to the rules – and the consequences – when things are going smoothly gives you lots of leverage later on. “So, Jimmy, you understand this?” Jimmy agrees that he does. “And you agree to it, right?” Again, Jimmy agrees.
When the child complains about consequences later, shift the responsibility back to the child – which is where it belongs. Say, “Gee, I don’t know why you would want to lose so much bedtime.” He is the one who wants to lose the privilege; you are just carrying out the agreed-upon consequences.
This is so powerful, that yelling becomes unnecessary. Furthermore, when you yell at the child, you’ve actually undone the power of the consequences. It’s as if you agreed with him that you are giving the punishment instead of that he has brought it on himself.
Strategy #3: Agree with your child that you are just as bad as he says you are.
With these two foundations in place, you are prepared for the moment when the child hurls the unthinkable words at you, “You’re a bad mommy!” I remember one of my children doing that as I marched him into his room for a time out. I smiled at him and said, “Yup!” (Humor.) I gently closed the door and left him to cool off for a little while before checking in.
You shouldn’t be arguing with a child. When you argue or get defensive, it is as if you told them, “We are equals.” But of course, you aren’t. When you smile and take it lightly, you are showing that you are still in charge, unaffected by his little tantrum. This gives the child a great deal of security: A child doesn’t really want to be in charge; it’s too much of a burden.
Strategy #4: Be incredibly positive
When you are positive, you accomplish the following:
- You remain a source of positive reinforcement. All children want praise and feedback. This is how they learn how to navigate their way in the world.
- When you remain the giver of positive feedback, you remain in charge; i.e., you keep the power.
- By keeping the tone of your interactions positive, you prevent anxiety from entering into that small soul in front of you. Too much worry leads children to procrastinate their jobs for fear of failure.
- Your own mind also remains clearer to remember clever things to say to your challenging youngster. As soon as you become frustrated and flustered, you are diverting your mental energy.
For children who have been so difficult that you can’t find anything positive to say, I suggest you compliment the most ordinary things. “Eli, it is great that you did not tease your sister as we walked out the door today.”
You can even make a “mistake” of thanking the child for something he didn’t do so as to help him get the taste of how it feels to be on the receiving end of compliments. As someone once said, “Parents are adults so they should be a lot smarter than their child!”