Unexpectedly an Expert

by LJ Dovichi

Woman: What’s your secret?

Me: Secret?

Woman: Your son. Is he always that well behaved?

Me: Well he has his moments, but yeah, usually.

Woman: How do you do it?

Every evening after dinner my husband and I take three-feet-of-fun, our three-year-old son, to the park and last night I unexpectedly became a child behavior expert. Apparently it had shocked the woman when I told three-feet-of-fun not to throw sand, he said sorry and immediately dropped his other handful without protest. He then sat down and started “making me a cake.”

Her son, only two months younger than mine, she told me, wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t mind, talked back to her, and was aggressive. She was feeling discouraged and wanted to know if I had any secrets for success or was my child just naturally easygoing. I laughed — it had been a long and painful road to get my strong willed child under control. Since she asked, I told her.

My top tactics for molding a good listening, well behaved, child:

Pick your battles. So what if your kid wants to eat ketchup with a spoon. Sure it’s gross but really you have bigger battles to win. You’ll have an easier time enforcing the important rules if you don’t sweat when your child wants to wear the same clothes he wore yesterday, dip his cheeseburger in applesauce, or lick the nontoxic chalk dust off his hands.

1, 2, 3. I’m a firm believer in counting. However, counting only works if, when you hit three, you deal out the consequences. I tell three-feet-of-fun to stop whatever it is he is doing and if he doesn’t respond right away, I start counting. 1….. 2…… He always stops by two. The trick is in the tone — I use a stern, no nonsense tone that he can’t ignore. It didn’t always work, though, and every time he didn’t listen, he’d get a timeout, even when he’d wait until I said three and then stop. I’d tell him he was too late, he had to stop before I said three, and then I’d stick him in timeout — he spent a lot of time in timeouts at the beginning.

Timeouts. They say for every year the child is old that’s how many minutes to give them in timeout. When I first started to do timeouts, three-feet-of-fun wouldn’t stay in the chair so I would calmly put him back in the chair and add more time. I explained to him that for every time he got up I’d add on more time until he stayed seated and the timer went off. I had to do it several times but he finally got it. Now, if I threaten a timeout to stop misbehavior, it’s a rare occurrence that he pushes me to enforce it.

Spankings. I know that spankings are a controversial punishment and are mostly frowned upon in today’s society. But I confess that I have used them on a rare occasion. If what three-feet-of-fun is doing is especially dangerous, I don’t feel like I have time to calmly reason with him and count to three. If he doesn’t listen and it’s going to hurt him I will spank his bottom, once, with an open hand. I don’t spank that hard, I know it doesn’t hurt him because it doesn’t hurt my hand, but it gets his attention immediately.

I don’t agree with spanking a child for crying. I’ve read books that say if a child cries for longer than five minutes, he needs to be given something to cry about. If three-feet-of-fun is particularly whiny or crying for no reason, I simply tell him I’m sorry he feels that way but there’s nothing I can do for him. Then I direct him to his room where he can carry on until he feels better and can come back out and use his words.

Consistency. I can’t stress this enough. If you say continue x behavior and y will happen. Y must happen. Once you establish the rules, you have to consistently enforce them. If you don’t, children will know they can sometimes win, and it will always be a battle. Kids are smart and they’re going to consistently test your resolve. Don’t get discouraged, it always gets worse before it gets better — but it does get better.

Redirection. When three-feet-of-fun was younger he had a nasty biting habit. He’d either be mad and bite, or he’d be playing and get so wound up he’d bite. I couldn’t break him of it so I tried a different approach. When he’d go in for a bite I’d tell him don’t slime Mommy, and made it a game. Granted, I get licked now, but I’d rather be slobbered on than bit. Children need to find outlets to express themselves, find them non painful ones.

Rewards. I have a hard time doling out stiff punishments for silly things like brushing teeth and taking baths. I’ve found for daily chores that need to be done that a reward system works best. We’ve instituted a responsibility chart that has things on it like brushing teeth, picking up toys, no whining, helping out, taking a bath, getting ready for bed — you know stuff of that nature, he is only three after all. At the end of the day if he’s done them all he gets to mark them off with magnets and when he fills up the weekly chart, he gets to pick out an inexpensive toy while we’re out shopping. So when he fusses about having to do something I remind him if he doesn’t, he won’t get a magnet. That usually ends the argument and gets the job done.

I think the most important thing is that for every punishment I have to dole out, I deal out at least three times as many praises. Anytime he listens without my having to count or anytime he does something without having to be asked I make sure he knows I noticed it and I lavish attention on him.

These tactics worked for me. Since no two kids are the same, they might need some modification to work for you. I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination so I was taken by surprised when this woman hung on my every word and said she was going to incorporate them into her approach. I was just a mom hoping that something I’d done would prove helpful to her.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008 at 8:09 pm and is filed under Uncategorized, Behavior Issues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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