Here’s a letter from an Aussie mum who is at her wit’s end with her disrespectful little one.
Today I have come to the end of my rope with my little boy Joshua. He is 3 years old. My current problem is his attitude towards me at times. My husband & I try to bring him up in the proper sense, we do not allow him to participate in violent games or to watch violent or disrespecting tv/video. Just within the last couple of minutes, he had broken his lego digger, that I had just spent an hour fixing. I was not angry, I just asked for the pieces, and proceeded out to the kitchen to fix it again. He then stormed out screaming at me that he hated me and that I should just go away. I am heart broken. He is even now standing at the office door saying he doesn’t like me. I have no idea what to do. Everyone around is saying it’s just a tantrum & to take no notice. But I notice that he is throwing a tantrum, but his words are hateful. I have explained on heaps of occasions that his words hurt me, but every time he does not agree with my discipline these words sprout from his lips. I’m out of idea’s on how to correct him.
Could it be that one of the biggest persuasions from having another child be a parents’ own children? Perhaps. We want to respond with three things that we’ve found doesn’t work (but they’re conventional wisdom), and then three things we’ve found to work wonders.
Here’s what doesn’t seem to work, no matter how many modern psychologists claim it to do so.
- Timeouts. The only timeout that will work for this Aussie mum is a timeout for herself! The idea that a timeout will give a child time to rationally think through his behavior is ridiculous. Instead, the child stews, usually growing more angry.
- Overreactions. How to respond to disrespect? More disrespect by overreacting, hitting, yelling, etc. seldom do the trick. Even the shrink-approved timeout by grabbing the child by the arm and throwing him in the corner is overreaction. Calm responses are always the key. Note the emphasis: always. If you are calm in your reaction, you’ve accomplished half of the feat of correction.
- Enabling. We catch ourselves more often than not enabling our children’s rotten behavior. Classic example: the 1-year-old screaming for milk. If you give him the milk, you’ve just reinforced the screaming. It’s tough to tell from this Aussie mum’s example, but it sounds like the Lego building was somehow reinforcing the rotten behavior.
Okay, those are some ideas for you of what not to do. What about positive reinforcers? Here are a few.
- Prioritize the Problem. The Aussie mum’s example is a good one in prioritizing. Which is more important here? The Lego project or the disrespect? In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to focus on the Lego project. Who cares about the Legos (or the mum’s feelings): the boy’s outrage is what is crucially important. Put the Lego set down and move in for a deeper analysis of the problem. In fact, stop everything. Ignoring the problem (funny how that was her friends’ advice) is not a solution.
- Discover the Problem. Once you’ve got your priorities straight, you’ll be able to focus on the problem. Joshua is clearly trying to manipulate Mum. It isn’t the Legos, nor is it Mum’s hurt feelings. Put all these aside and focus on the problem: Joshua is using a disrespectful tantrum to get something. It’s tough to tell what it is in this example, but a parent asking the right question, “What does he want?” usually brings correct answers.
- Practice the Solution. We cover this idea in two chapters in our book, Love in the House. Whatever the desired behavior, play it out as a game. If, say, picking up the Legos is the issue, practice picking up the Legos. Seriously: “Hey Joshua, we’re going to practice picking up the Legos!” Dump out a dozen Legos, and pick them up together. It may feel weird at first, but they catch on great. Our book goes into more detail with the examples of sitting quiet in church, going to bed when told, and behaving in the supermarket.
We’ve literally had parents claim these ideas were life savers for their family. If you struggle like this Aussie mum struggles, you have got to get our book. We want your family to be filled with love and joy! Hence the title, Love in the House.