*Disclaimer* I am not a parenting expert. These are just my thoughts on what I think works.
Guns and kids don’t typically mix, unless… you’re a Nerf Gun fan. But, if you find yourself in charge of another human and you don’t have a plan…
So, it’s best do go down to your local Bass Pro, select a nice pump shotgun and…
Kidding, definitely kidding.
I am talking about a metaphorical gun that has a metaphorical clip filled with a diverse range of metaphorical bullets. Those bullets are different tactics you go to when enforcing rules.
I have found that the first type ammo is the most important and not a consequence.
Ammo 1: Foundation: Set Expectations and Rules
I am sure this is extremely obvious, but in truth I am finding that more and more it’s over looked. If a child isn’t explicitly and consistently given rules and expectations for all aspects of life, they begin to be subject to the rules and expectations (or lack thereof) of those around them. Despite what we may think, sometimes it’s hard to remember what it’s like to be a kid. The way I remind myself of what it’s like is to think of being at a job for the first time and sitting down at your desk. Normally, you would have orientation, receive a description of your job, and receive some sort of shadowing and on the job training.
I think of my kids as waking up every day at a new job, with no sense of direction or instruction. It’s my job to reorient them when needed, remind them of their job description and show them through my actions what I mean. I do this naturally in a fun and fatherly way, but the basic principles are all the same.
Example: My kids (5 and 7) have been told they need to always make sure their play room is clean when they are done playing, do they? No. But, that’s OK, because it’s my job to remind them and ensure they do. That instills a good habit of cleaning things up when they’re done with it. This also means that I must clean as I go, and keep my areas of the house clean, or else then I am a hypocrite and lose credibility.
Bottom line is, you can’t expect anyone to act in a way you would like them to without you first establishing expectations with them and holding yourself to the same standards.
Ammo 2: The Warning: The Look
Kids are going to misbehave, that’s a fact. To me, it’s like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, constantly testing the electric fence. The look is what let’s them know you’re watching their beginning of attempt to test the fence and is a warning not to do it. Eye contact is essential, especially with the amount of times are heads are down in our phones or watching tv, or on the computer. You’re letting your kids know that you’re not so distracted and are aware of their actions.
Ammo 3: The Holler: Shock Value
This is big when the look is not possible, maybe the kids are in another room or level of the house and you can sense things are starting to escalate. My go to is a “HEY!”, which usually stops everyone in their tracks. Then in a calm voice assess the situation and go from there.
Ammo 4: The Standard: Time Out
Honestly, this is so tried and true. But, in my opinion, it doesn’t work unless you completely remove them from the entire situation. My kids do time out in their room in their bed. They’re allowed out of time out when they can come down and have a rational conversation about what happened and then apologize.
If there is a disagreement between them, they need to go upstairs and figure it out. Then they come downstairs and give us their resolution. We continue to push the narrative that they are a team and they need to always have each other’s backs. By making them work it out, instead of playing judge and jury, I feel like we are forcing them to have a bond and more often than not, whoever is in the wrong apologizes so they can both come down and continue to play.
More on being a sibling teammate in a future blog
Ammo 5: The Magician: Scalable Removal of What’s Important
In my humble opinion, this is that hardest, but most effective punishment. It is most effective, because it can be scaled or adjusted to meet any kid, and any situation.
The logic is simple:
- Set up the expectation that if a behavior continues, they will lose: (Pick something important)
- Read their response, it should be that of surprise and shock
- They should NOT want to lose what you are promising
- If you do not get that look, continue changing or adding until you know they value what’s at stake
- Prepare for them to call your bluff (don’t take away something you’re not prepared to give up)!
- Example: If you have been looking forward to going out to dinner as a family and really have already tasted that burger, don’t say: “If you keep doing that, we won’t be going out to dinner tonight”, because odds are: they will do it and now you and your credibility are in a pickle. Obviously if you don’t mind not going out to dinner, and they would be super upset, then that would be a great use of this tactic.
- Execute the removal quickly and calmly, while reminding them that this was the expectation that was set up for them.
This tactic doesn’t work if you’re overly emotional, in fact none of these do. You want to show your kids that you can have emotions while not taking them out on others. You can be upset and disappointed in their actions and enforce the punishment while not projecting on to your kids. You want to be a role model for them, and if it’s ok for you to scream and holler and get crazy when you’re upset; you should not be shocked when they act them same way when they’re upset.
To be clear, I am not saying to have your kids be void of emotion but being calm when you’re upset and enforcing a punishment.
Ammo 6: The Shake Down: Interrogation and Torture
When all else fails, beat the piss out of your kids. KIDDING! KIDDING!
No. This is not a physical beat-down, this is a mental beat-down, an interrogation and a tortuous experience.
This is the time where you really need to be the emotionally mature adult and dive into the root cause into why the situation continues to happen. This is a time where you need to listen and ensure to your kid that this is a safe place and they need to trust you and be honest with you. This is the time to leave no stone unturned, with the goal for you and your child to be on the same page at the end of the conversation. You should know exactly what’s going on in your kid’s mind and why the behavior continues, and they should leave understanding why it’s wrong, the long-term impact of continued behavior and how it impacts you and others around them.
The mental breakdown for kids is constantly answering questions on a topic they’re not interested in discussing: their misbehavior. The lesson learned here is over coming that knee jerk reaction to be defensive. To talk through situations and use help to change behavior. The interrogation is not accepting the vanilla answer and continuing to press to get the information you need to help them address the issue.
The torture / hardest part is the last part, which is setting up action items or goals. Those should be met with positive reinforcement / rewards when achieved and expected consequences should the behavior continue.
For those who need an example:
Here’s a hypothetical:
My 7-year-old decides to lie about cleaning up something. She knows lying is wrong, conversation happens, then consequence happens. Consequence in this case say: tablet time is taken away for a designated time period- say 3 days.
Next day: 7-year-old lies again about cleaning.
Now, as a parent I must decide, is this premeditated or random. If I think random, I will have another shorter conversation and take something else away. If I think premeditated or this has been addressed multiple times before, now we are using Ammo 6 and we are going to talk through why she continues to lie, the continued effect of lying on her, on us as parents and on others around her.
Then we switch to the positive, all the positive things that happen when you’re honest. Then I ask her what would be fair moving forward if she were to lie again etc.
Again, these are just my thoughts and what I have found works for my kids. All kids are different, but my thought is that this framework can be pretty effective and can be tailored to fit many different situations. No matter what your tactics are, just remember your kids are smart and the more you talk to them like they’re mature people, they will act like mature people.
If you talk down to them, or constantly at them or with a raised voice, well guess how they’re going to talk back!
I will revisit this in 5 years once I am dealing with Middle School and see how well it still applies.
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