A few weeks ago, I had a parent send me a message asking for advice because his 8-year-old daughter was speaking disrespectfully and hatefully to her parents. He told me they’d tried time-outs, spanking, and taking away things, and none of them were working.
I answered him with these thoughts:
There’s probably many parenting programs and tactics you could use to attack this situation, and I’m not here to tell you which one is the best. But I am going to start by saying this: pick one and stick with it, whether it’s Total Transformation, Love and Logic, or techniques from experts such as Dr. Michele Borba. As you adapt whatever strategy works for your family, keep in mind five key character-shaping words: foundation, consistency, time, clarity,and calm.
Build a FOUNDATION
Your kids will live out and say what is “programmed” into them and this becomes the foundation for who they grow up to become. The question is then, what is being programmed into them?
Your children are being programmed all day long from what they hear at school, in sports, with friends, at home, or through movies, TV, books and the computer. And let’s be honest, there is a lot of negative influences in our world.
To combat that, you as parents must be feeding your kids as much positive as you can.
- Monitor TV, movies, books so that your child is getting wholesome, positive content.
- Program positive morals into them by exposing them to the literature, people, and beliefs that you want them to know. Be intentional about it, don’t just assume they will pick things up. Whether it’s taking them to church, reading good books with them, or exposing them to positive role models, you must face the fact that parenting kids to become people of character is a battle day in and day out.
When our kids were young, we moved our family across the country from Florida to California, to live around family that we felt was a strong positive influence on our kids. Now that our kids are young adults, we see that was one of the best decisions we ever made for our family.
- Talk with your children about moral issues like how we treat people, love, respect, etc. Be on the alert for teachable moments when you can impart wisdom that your child is really hearing.
Some of you may be thinking that I’m suggesting you should shelter your children from negative influences, and for the first part of their lives, that is exactly what I am saying. There will come a time as they grow to let them experience the real world, but be sure their foundation is strong so they are ready when that time comes.
Along with that idea, I’m not saying you should protect your child from learning hard lessons. Those times will undoubtably come and when they do, take advantage of the teachable moments and help your child learn from the experience. Yet another way to strengthen the character foundation.
There are many good discipline strategies to choose from, but the method is only part of the solution. No program will work without consistency.
Consistency is probably the hardest part. It means you have to follow through with the discipline when you are tired, when you don’t want to get up, and when you are not home.
For example, let’s say you’ve told your child that a certain type of behavior is not acceptable and if she chooses to do it anyway, there will be consequences (you decide what they are). If you have talked to her about this and you know she understands, then you must do those consequences EVERY TIME she engages in the unwanted behavior. This may mean she will have to go to her room for the evening even you have company, or it may mean that if you are at a friend’s house you will have to leave early. Whatever the scenario, you cannot waver from the consequence you have set.
If you jump from discipline strategy to discipline strategy as the parent who wrote me was–they tried time-outs, spanking, taking things away–you may find that your child is playing you. She knows you are experimenting with different disciplines, and the fact that you are trying so many things says to her that she’s got you floundering for a way to reinforce what you’ve told her.
That’s why you must find a logical consequence to the behavior and stick to it like your life depends on it.
Give it TIME
My friend is learning that her good eating habits have to be a lifestyle and that it will take more than 2, 3 or 4 weeks. She will have to commit to a new way of life, at least for a good long while.
Your discipline strategy has to be a way of life. Pick one strategy and stick with it. It may take months or longer for your child to get the message, but if you are consistent and stick with it, she will.
The bottom line is this: You can’t microwave character growth.
When you decided on a strategy, sit down with your child and say something like this, “Mom and I have talked and decided that ______ (type of behavior) is not acceptable in our home. If you choose to do it, there will be consequences.” You can tell her what those are or not, it’s up to you. But be sure she understands what you have said, perhaps asking her to repeat it to you.
I believe that staying calm is HUGE. I admit I blew it occasionally as my kids grew up, but I usually apologized and tried to be more matter of fact about discipline.
When your child misbehaves, stay calm and explain that her behavior is unacceptable. Then, administer the pre-determined discipline. No yelling, no getting mad. Just do the discipline and let her experience the consequences.
There is no doubt in my mind that raising kids to be healthy, positive adults is a totally exhausting endeavor. But it is well worth the painful effort when you see that your kids are headed down a good path.