by Kerry Hart
Parenting can be one of the toughest jobs out there. You give, and you give, day after day, and yet you may still find yourself frustrated with a child who seems to live for making your frustration level rise. Children exhibit bad behaviors that can be easily punished; however, what if there was another way? Punishing your child will result in frustration on both sides, which can eventually result in conflict with the child, with your partner, and even affect your family’s overall functioning. Before getting to the point where you, as the parent, feel a complete loss of control, there are a few ways to nip bad behaviors in the bud.
Picture this, you spend an obnoxious amount of your take home pay on a family vacation you truly believed your child would enjoy. As you are returning home, your child turns to you and says, well that place was terrible, we did not get to eat pizza the entire time! Your instinct here might be to yell out in frustration, throw your carry-on bag to the ground and stomp your feet as you see dollar signs crumbling in your mind’s eye. I encourage you to take another route, one that may even break some bad habits for good. One solid method for stopping complaints involves consistency on your part, but I promise it is worth it. When your child complains about something, stop what you are doing completely. Encourage your child to instead state two things they are grateful for. This method will not only remind them that complaining is an undesirable trait, but also make them stop and think about the positive things you have provided for them over time. Alternatively, they may become annoyed with having to do this, and therefore stop complaints before they come out of their mouths merely to avoid the extra work. Either way, you will eventually stop hearing complaints, which will result in a happier parent and a better functioning family.
Many parents find themselves arguing with their child, which can also be wildly frustrating. Why do you do this? Do you honestly feel your child can go tête-à-tête with you when they have yet to reach high school, and you have years of worldly experience under your belt? When a child is arguing with you, and you know they are wrong, do not engage. State your point once, and let that be that. If the child tries to continue the argument, address the undesired behavior. Ask them why they are arguing with you and then fall silent. Allow the child to think about why they are arguing with you. Encourage them to think of their behaviors critically. Depending on their age, they may not openly admit to you that they are wrong, but they will eventually get to that conclusion on their own. By engaging in an argument with the child, you are encouraging the bad behavior. Stop the argument from getting to a frustrating level by stating your point, and stopping yourself from interacting on the subject from there.
“When your child is throwing a tantrum, and you choose to coddle them or give in to their will, they learn that this behavior is acceptable and will get them what they want.”
This brings us to every parent’s favorite problem behavior: throwing temper tantrums. If your child believes acting like a fool will get them what they want, you may want to ask yourself why that is. Did they learn this from an older sibling? Do the other kids talk about this at school? Or, have you been giving in because, frankly, it can be embarrassing when your kid throws themselves on the ground repeatedly in the middle of Meijer? When your child is throwing a tantrum and you choose to coddle them or give in to their will, they learn that this behavior is acceptable and will get them what they want. This will result in a consistent repeating of the problem behavior, which is the opposite of what we are going for here. Hard as it may be, I encourage you to ignore this problem behavior. Simply tell your child this behavior is unacceptable and walk away. Obviously, do not abandon your child in public, but walk far enough away that your child can realize they are on the ground in a department store and people are staring. Your child will eventually pick themselves up and come find you. If they continue to cry and berate you, continue to ignore the behavior. Your child will become frustrated and will eventually connect that carrying on in this way will not bring them the results they desire.
Disciplining your children can be tricky business, particularly in this day and age. Children have become smarter and more calculating to get what they want. Never forget that you are older and have more life experience. Do not allow yourself to get dragged into a frustrating cycle of arguing, yelling, or even negotiating. Instead, I encourage you to outsmart your child, using the tools highlighted in this article. Using your head instead of your hands or intense volume will also set an example for what appropriate behavior looks like moving forward.
Kerry Hart, LLMFT is a family therapist located within Grand Rapids Natural Health. She specializes in the treatment of children, teens, couples, and families.