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.