Parenting has its share of frustrations, and sometimes the appropriate thing to do in response is not apparent. Frustration, impatience, confusion, and anger are all expected emotions during the parenting process—yet they are not excuses for copping out, threatening, or playing on your child’s fears.
Have you ever said “Just wait until your father [or mother] gets home!”? This response to misbehavior is a cop-out of parenting responsibility, and if your child shapes up after hearing this statement, he or she is doing so out of fear, not from learning during a teachable moment. Most of the time, this expression succeeds only in undermining your authority as a parent while turning the absent parent into an enforcer to be feared. Parenting is a team effort, so work together to create clear and consistent expectations and logical consequences. Then you can say, “Your father [or mother] and I have talked about this, and we have agreed . . .”
Threats aren’t a very helpful response to misbehavior either. For example, a threat such as “If you are going to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about,” only intimidates your child. These words teach him or her to hold back tears and hide feelings, which is unhealthy. A parent’s job is to help their children understand the natural and healthy emotions we all experience. Then we can help them learn how and when to express them. Almost always it will be most helpful to comfort and console your child when he or she is crying. Reassure your child, and then you can make accommodations and modifications to the situation.
Another common threat is “If you’re not coming, then I’m leaving without you.” This statement also plays on your child’s fears. Any short-term success in achieving momentary cooperation comes with the possible long-term consequence of a fearful and less secure child. Furthermore, would you really follow through? Instead, why not at moments like these turn into a playful parent and make getting to the car a game or a connection to something positive, such as a reward, depending on the situation. Try something like “If we can get to the car before I count to twenty, you are going to be the pick-the-music winner!” or “The sooner we get to the car, the more time you will have to play at home” or “If we get to the car without a fuss, we will have time to get a soda.”
One final thought: “Bad boy” and “bad girl” simply are not accurate descriptions when a child is misbehaving. They are, however, hurtful words that damage self-esteem. Your son or daughter isn’t bad, although the choices he or she makes may be unacceptable, unsafe, or inappropriate to the situation. That means the choices need to be corrected, not the child. Also, remember to tell your children what they can do (not just what they can’t do) when you are helping them learn about choices.