“Mom, you’re mean!”
I knew it would happen sooner or later, but when my son yelled this at me for the first time from his bedroom recently, it hurt. There was no doubt in my mind that I was doing the right thing; it was more than 60 minutes past his bedtime, and he was not settling down, so I stuck my head in his door to threaten him with the loss of his beloved light sabers for the next day. Funny thing is, when he threw those three words at me, I instantly questioned myself…”Was I too hard on him?”
I think every parent struggles with finding the balance between being a tyrant and a pushover, and it isn’t easy to always be consistent and follow-through, especially when your child is old enough to make you feel bad about it. One of the most common topics at almost every well child visit starting around 6 months of age is how to get your child to behave and follow your rules, and it’s HARD. Kids are smart and they quickly figure out what buttons to push and how to make parents feel bad for doing their job. There’s a reason that there are hundreds of books available on parenting – it’s difficult.
However, a few key points that I try to make to parents are:
- Be clear. How often does it work to say to your children “Stop fighting?” It doesn’t work at my home. Instead, try to pinpoint certain behaviors that aren’t acceptable or, if all else fails, instead of telling your children to stop arguing, tell them to each go to a specific room for a set amount of time.
- Be consistent. It can’t be okay to jump on the couch if a certain song is playing, but other times, it results in trouble. If the rule is important, stick to it.
- All caregivers need to be on the same page. It’s confusing if certain behaviors are okay with one parent, but not the other, and kids pick up on this. We all did it as kids – if dad says no, then we’d ask mom…our kids are just as savvy. It’s good for your children to know that you discuss the rules and consequences. I’m trying to get in the habit of saying “I need to discuss this with your dad.”
- Follow through. This can be the toughest one. We all want our kids to have fun, but if there is a consequence that was threatened, you need to stick with it. The biggest lesson here is to not threaten something that you’re not willing to give up if your child doesn’t behave. For example, if you’ve been planning a family vacation, don’t threaten to cancel or leave your child behind unless you are truly willing to do so. Yes, it’s a big threat, but if your child calls your bluff, the lesson isn’t learned.
- Finally, your job is to be your child’s parent, not their friend. This sounds harsh, but it’s completely true. There will be many times during your child’s life, that being a good parent means doing the exact opposite of what your child wants you to do, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you don’t care for them or that you’re mean…in fact, as I reminded myself the other night, it means you love them very much.
Do you have other discipline tips that work in your home? Please share them here!
Carleen Hanson, MD
Meriter West Washington