One of the things I do as a therapist while working with families and children is help parents gain confidence in their parenting skills and empower them to take control of the family by reacting more firmly and consistent to misbehavior. I do not work with the children alone but help parents develop specific strategies to more effectively deal with their children at home. Here are four of the most common issues that arise in therapy that indicate to me the parent could use some help with discipline and how they might change what they are doing.
#1 Does your child listen to you the first time you say something?
The form this usually takes is the parent counting to 3. If you have to count to 3, it is a sign that your child does not take you seriously. Children should listen to you the first time you ask them to do something. If they do not, then you need to follow through with consequences. They should not be the ones determining when they have to listen, and it forms a bad habit that might in due course lead to embarrassment when you are out with friends and family.
The solution: instead of counting, make them do what you asked of them the first time you say it. If they do not, consequences will follow. That usually means you have to stop what you are doing immediately, but the benefits out weigh the consequences of not acting.
# 2 Does Your Child Push The Limits
Does your child push the limits? For instance, when you are in the store or out and about, do they act up knowing you cannot touch them for fear of public perception? Nothing is worse than having a screaming child in the grocery store checkout line. You have to be there, and they know you cannot touch them. It is like when they are in the car seat where they know your arm is beyond reach.
The solution: If you are out as a couple, the obvious thing would be to have one adult take the child out to the car. It would only have to happen a few times before they catch on. If it is only you, you can leave the store immediately or provide the consequences the moment you get home. The important thing is to remember the misbehavior. It is easy to get distracted when back at home, and you forget to discipline or even disregard the importance of following through with the consequence because the trouble has since passed. Not following through will only make it more challenging to handle in the future.
When in the car, I always recommend pulling the vehicle over for a time-out period. This works best when going on family vacations where the kids really want to get to their destination. So take advantage of the opportunity!
#3 Losing Your Temper
When you get angry, it is likely because you have let things go far too long.
The solution: If you find yourself getting angry, remind yourself you have to handle things much sooner. Remember that you, the parent, in all likelihood, could have addressed things before they got out of hand. That does not mean you will not get angry from time to time, or forget to use your inside voice. You cannot always act, and no parent is consistent enough. There is only one certainty; you will be given plenty of opportunities to put these tips into practice and hone in your consistency skills.
#4 You Are Arguing With a 5-year-Old.
This really applies to any aged child. But hopefully, it will drive the message home. Remember the show, are you smarter than a 5th grader? Well, yes, you are, so stop arguing with them. Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! as the classic Bob Newhart skit goes. You can YouTube it for reference if you have not heard of it.
The solution: No more are you to argue with or beg your child. If they do not do what you ask of them, follow through with a consequence.
I like to instruct my parents in therapy only to ask once, maybe twice but if they do not follow through, say nothing else. For instance, you tell your 13-year-old to take out the trash, and they forget or outright refuse; they get nothing they ask for, for the rest of the day. If they are doing anything enjoyable, take it away until they do what you have requested and maybe even longer depending on their response to the consequence. If your child has a meltdown in the store, then you do not go out for ice cream; you do not buy them the ring pop at the counter. They do not get to watch Bubble Guppies when they get home. They do not get to do anything.
Now you might be asking, does not the “power and control” approach to parenting impair child development? After all that is what all the parenting magazines will have you believe. The short answer is no. The more consistent your discipline, the less frequent it will have to be. And remember, you are addressing issues before you blow your top! That leaves you more time to be the calm and loving parent you wish to be.