ow, quit it. ow, quit it. ow, quit it


I suppose every positive blog needs its antithesis, and so this is where we must deal with the negative side of kids’ behavior, but I think childrearin’ can get pretty tricky in this area. There’s no Grand Unifying Theory on how to make kids stop doing bad things – there’s about forty theories in 400 books, and that’s some heavy lifting.

In general, our gameplan stays positive: crappy behavior is made rare in a world where positive behavior is rewarded. It’s akin to heating your house with a woodstove – you can’t pipe the hot air to other rooms very effectively, but you can pipe the cold air to the stove from other rooms to achieve that goal. It’s effective, but it’s a roundabout method, and it takes time.

There was a pretty simple rule we heard, and it went something like this:

• say your toddler is hitting your laptop with a spatula

• ask them nicely – and firmly – to stop

• if they do it again, tell them why they can’t do it, and remind them of consequences [thanks, Deb! -ed.]

• if they don’t, don’t ask again – CALMLY and IMMEDIATELY take away the spatula and remove the laptop from the situation

• if the laptop is something that can’t be moved, CALMLY and IMMEDIATELY carry them somewhere else

• if they come back, CALMLY and IMMEDIATELY remove them again

• if they do it a third time, they get a swift “time out” somewhere boring

The key is not negotiating, and quick, consistent action every time. They will learn super goddamn fast that it isn’t worth it. And if you remain fairly emotion-free during the event, it will take the “juice” out of it for them. Remember, they have ALL DAY to fuck with you, and you have FIFTEEN THOUSAND other things to do.

Again, don’t negotiate – this is like crack cocaine to them. And freaking out only ensures that they know they’ve got your number. The boundaries you set right here keep them out of therapy later.

Will all kids respond to this? Probably not, especially little boys, who are filled with hormones and cat pee and craziness and honestly can’t help themselves most of the time. But if you have foregone spanking, swatting, humiliation, derision, screaming or the silent treatment… you gotta start somewhere, and it’s as good a place as any.

That said, I grew up in a house that participated in much of the negative reinforcement above, so I admit trying to overcorrect in the other direction. Punishing my child actually makes me physically nauseous, because it brings up things from my own childhood, so I will put up with a lot. The only things I really can’t abide are entitlement-seeming rudeness (rare, thank god) and the tooth-brushing opera (common, and infuriating).

A word about the Wheel of Wonderful™ – I agree with Deb’s dad… a point earned is not one that can be taken away. Believe me, I’ve been tempted, but turning back the wheel seems unnatural, and the ability to erase them somehow diminishes their power.

There is a sneaky way to go about it, however. When she’s massively fartypantsing around when we’re late for school, we’ll say something like “oh man, we really wanted to give you points for getting in the car quickly – ah well…” and that seems to do the trick (which is odd, since we would never give her points in that situation anyway).

I also don’t want to give off the notion that our house is held under the tyranny of the W.O.W. and the points are as anticipated as chits in a bingo lock-in. We’ve gone for weeks, a month, without even mentioning the point system, and at one point, the W.O.W. was under a car seat for a while. Apparently this is the recommended method – giving the system an unspoken break for a stretch increases the effectiveness and mitigates the “what am I getting for this?” effect Neva and Anne mentioned yesterday.

I realize all this picayune bullshit makes people without kids swear they’ll never have any. If I were 23 and reading this, I’d hop in my shitty-ass VW Rabbit and drive to New Orleans and do absinthe shots in Jackson Square just to clear my head of the imagined deadness. And yet, it’s actually its own adventure. Every second of this ride is worth it, and my 23-year-old self is looking rather dull from this side of the carnival.

0 thoughts on “ow, quit it. ow, quit it. ow, quit it

  1. Deb

    I think the segue into dog training in yesterday’s comments is interesting and telling. In addition to our 3.5-year-old, we’re also currently raising a 10-month-old German Shepherd, whom we obtained when he was 8 weeks old. The dog has been pretty textbook in his pack mentality/behavior, and (since I’m home with him more and am more of a disciplinarian) it couldn’t be clearer that I’m the Alpha, and he (mostly) treats me as such. Cute aside: He (at 83 pounds) also thinks the kid is his litter mate and tries to curl up next to him at every opportunity. As I said, very textbook.
    My point is, there are a lot of similarities in the Alpha-rest of the pack relationship and potentially successful family dynamics. With both parents (ideally) being co-Alphas, of course. The Alpha dog doesn’t bark like crazy or engage in corporal punishment. He(/she) establishes his dominance from minute 1, so those (ineffective) measures aren’t necessary. One low growl from an Alpha, and the puppies usually back down. I’ve been really keen on establishing that dynamic from the get-go, with some human caveats:
    -I think it’s really important to give your kid a chance to correct his behavior first. You say No once. Then they get the chance to stop. Then they get the Supernanny “warning”, explaining what will happen if they don’t stop. If they don’t, then they get the consequence you explained.
    -I also think explaining the “why” of the “No” is important. Maybe it’s because I have a really logical kid, but if he knows the reason behind the prohibition, he’s ten times more likely to stop on his own. I grew up with a lot of “Because I said so” responses, which just felt reductive and made me resentful. Plus, not only are you correcting bad behavior, you’re engaging in a life lesson. It doesn’t make me feel any less “powerful” that he asks Why…..as frustrating as it is at times.
    So I’m sure he’ll grow up seeing me as a hard-ass, but most of the time he just has to look at my face or hear my “low growl” to know I mean business, and I know I’m giving him mutual respect by not throwing my weight around spuriously and explaining why the things he does are important or have consequences.
    I’m still unconvinced about the stars being moveable. We’ll see. I get the theory, but–as we’ve explained to Augie–it’s his “Behavior Chart”, so it charts his behavior, both good and bad. I suppose when he’s older and can do math we could have a “bad” sticker chart next to the good one that we can tally up at the end of the month or something. I WILL be trying your roundabout method, though, Ian, and see how that works.

  2. Emma's Big sis

    I have 2 teens – 14 and 16. They could not be more wonderful children/young adults. They are smart, funny, great to be around. I truly cannot remember how we got to this point. I think that no means no and following through really helps. We never had a sticker chart or rewarded good behavior on a daily or weekly basis. I used a stern voice with them from the start and I think that helped. I happen to think that I have really easy kids to raise. I see others and cringe.
    WE have always been open in our household (oral sex discussions at the dinner table are not uncommon – I would rather they hear it from us than their friends.) Last week’s birth control discussion was eye opening. I have never felt that I should be my kids’ best friend but instead their guide to being a successful adults. Friendship is there, but when I need to step in, I’m not afraid to have them mad at me.
    Each kid is different. Parenting styles differ. There are 4 sibs in our family who have children and I think that our parenting styles differ a lot. The end result is 7 kids from 4 different families who are all pretty great.

  3. Ian

    Deb – you’re absolutely right about the warning of consequences and explanation why it’s wrong. I added it to the blog…

  4. Jeanette

    When you say “don’t hit the laptop” to a two year old, or a child on the spectrum (like mine), they get a visual in their mind of hitting the laptop. Being visual thinkers at this stage, the image is more powerful than the word “don’t” Lacking impulse control, they will more often than not, do the exact thing you just told them not to. Frustrating for you, but also for them.
    A more effective technique than what our parents used on us – and more difficult – is to tell the toddler what TO do. “hit the drum” for example. Most of the time this visual is strong and appealing enough that you can (1) stop the “bad” behavior immediately (2) avoid all that tedious discipline stuff.
    I have found this technique to be quite helpful in dealing with nasty customer service people, police officers, and other adults who sometimes act like toddlers.

  5. Alan

    I just bellow at the top of my lungs about everything and apply degrees of jocularity to the content of my bellow depending on the severity of the infraction.
    Consequences of repeat behavior = Dad bellows and he is not telling a joke this time.

  6. erica

    @Emma’s big sis – don’t sell yourself short. Having “really easy kids to raise” is a direct function of your parenting.
    I had a friend tell me I was *lucky* I had such good kids. Seriously? (She had asked my advice about some parenting issue and then said it would never work for her kids…)
    Whatever flavor – active parenting (not helicopter mind you, but active) will increase your LUCK exponentially.

  7. jp

    When you have a great kid, it’s really easy to think your kids are awesome because you are a good parent and other kids aren’t awesome because their parents are bad parents. But it’s all much more complicated than this. And, frankly, it really pisses me off when parents judge other parents whose kids behave in different ways.
    Surely you all saw the ‘bad seed’ article in the NY Times a few weeks ago? It was the most emailed article for weeks. It turns out that parents can raise two kids who are completely different, and good parents can raise lousy kids.
    Ian, this isn’t to say you guys aren’t doing a great job–I especially love that you guys actually researched all this. I’m responding more to the comments, especially the one above where the mom says she isn’t lucky, but a good mom.
    The NY Times piece ends with this, “For better or worse, parents have limited power to influence their children. That is why they should not be so fast to take all the blame — or credit — for everything that their children become.”

  8. jp

    Okay, apparently I’m not done. Let’s remember it wasn’t all that long ago that mothers were blamed when their sons were gay. But now that way of thinking is totally outmoded. I suspect this notion that good parents always have good kids is also going to seem rather old-fashioned down the road.
    (Which is not to say we shouldn’t all try to parent our best. But, please, the last thing we need is to be judging our siblings and peers.)

  9. erica

    Wasn’t trying to toot my own horn if that is how it came across. Truly wanted to recognize the job emma’s big sis (and others) were doing. I know when I left the corporate world, one of the biggest adjustments was getting used to a whole new set of validation. No performance reviews, raises, bonuses, promotions… Heck, half the time even if you *might* have been doing it *right*, the results didn’t manifest until so much later.
    The case that I was referencing had to do with my kids looking an adult in the eye, introducing themselves in an audible manner, using proper manners, etc. And yes, I do believe I had plenty to with that – making it a priority, modeling correct behavior, praising success, redirecting as necessary. Don’t get me wrong – I know I hit the genetic jackpot with their funny personalities and sunny (mostly) demeanors but throw nurture a bone too.

  10. jp

    Erica, you have totally disarmed me with your reasonableness! Sorry I misread your comment. I did indeed have my hackles up (and it wasn’t just your comment that did it).
    And, yeah, I do think we have a ton of influence over our kids. I don’t mean to discount that. I just see so many parents get snippy about other kids’ behaviors… can’t we all just get along? Etc.
    Anyway, thanks for your response.


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