Q. I know you don’t believe in consequences, but is there ever a circumstance where a consequence is effective even when knowing the root cause of the behavior? Example: My 10-year-old son expressed this morning that he wished he didn’t have to go to school. He was moody and angry. I did some digging and turns out he hates music and it’s his first class of the day. I get it. I said missing school isn’t an option and asked if he could think of anything to make the day bearable. He was super angry and wasn’t open to hearing me and started to call me vulgar names/swears. I told him that calling me names is unacceptable—something I’ve told him many times. He stormed outside to ride his scooter for a bit, and I was left wondering if he should lose YouTube after school. Will it make him remember or think twice when he is in the red zone swearing at me? Is it just a thing parents do to feel in control when the situation feels so out of control? Can I do both? Does it make sense to say, “in our home when you call me vulgar names you lose privileges”?
I hate the word chores, and I can guarantee your kids do too. Asking kids to do chores is like saying I want you to take on this drudgery, this burden. And then when the expectation is that they should do them willingly because of all you do for them—that’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.
First, think of another word. I have heard them called contributions, which has exactly the right intention behind it. Jobs can feel a bit more important than the onus of chores. Do your chores sounds like an imposed sentence.
Second, set your expectations of your kids appropriately. Do not ever expect that your kids will be happy to help. Wanting to help out and having consideration of all you do, comes with maturity. Children are naturally egocentric and care only about their own happiness—frustrating, yes, but developmentally appropriate. They grow into being considerate when their needs are considered.
Third, set your expectations of yourself appropriately. Expect that from a very young age, your children are going to do tasks to be helpful. Just don’t expect them to like it or to think of their jobs without reminders and prompts. The important thing is that they do them, so they learn they are important contributing members of the family. A family is a team. When you are on a team, every player is important to its success.
In the wake of the recent college admissions scandal, my concern is with the students who are waking up to a whole new vision of themselves. Many of them from fifty known families—so far—apparently knew none of what their parents were up to—until now.
Some received a sports scholarship in a sport never played using photoshopped headshots; some had their SAT and ACT tests corrected by paid off proctors; some even had their tests taken for them. Coaches at the elites took huge amounts of money from an agent of a falsified non-profit who took even more from parents desperate to give their children a prestigious resume and a bumper sticker for their cars. The illegal non-profit allowed the parents to deduct their payments as donations.
Imagine what it must feel like to be that college student oblivious to what got you accepted? What happens to any trust you have in your parents—or any trust you thought they had in you? And then to find out your parents are under arrest for their illegal conduct. How could you not feel inadequate in your parents’ eyes knowing what they did to get you in? How must it feel to assume you deserved admittance only to learn oodles of money was your ticket?
Kids don’t want to do chores. That’s a fact. Expect this. That doesn’t mean let them off the hook. It is essential for our kids to be contributing members of the family to develop an investment in and consideration for their family members. A family is a team. When you are on a team, every team player is important to the working of the whole.
But when you yell, bribe, or threaten them to do their chores, the underlying assumption is that they should want to but they don’t. This unrealistic expectation means you will yell when that expectation is not met. But if you understand that kids don’t want to do chores, you will be more effective at ensuring they get to work.
Remember when your toddlers and preschoolers begged to run the vacuum, fold laundry, wash windows, and sweep the floor? It would have taken the entire morning and you’d have to do it over anyway. You didn’t have the time or patience so you got them out of the way to just get it done. Well, you might have missed your chance. Little children want to help — until we make them.
I doubt if there is a parent alive who is okay with a daughter being sexually compromised, unable to stop unwanted advances, or getting less pay than her male counterpart — or a son becoming a bully or sexual predator who objectifies women for his pleasure and who expects higher pay than his female counterpart. Surely, we want our children to grow strong in their voices and opinions, while respectful of all those they are in relationship with.
So how do you do it? How do you raise a strongly opinionated woman who can stop any unwanted influence if you get angry and impatient with her demands at age three, seven, ten, fourteen? What does she learn about herself when the grownups in her life shut down her strong emotions, even when they get physical, with put downs, blame, shame, and punishment?
What about your boys who may not be into sports but would rather keep close to home, or who cry and have meltdowns beyond the point at which you think they should? What do they learn when they witness their fathers making demands on their mothers or when their fathers are physically or emotionally abusive to them or expect them to “act like men” when they are still children?
Refusing the Toilet
Q. My 3 yr old daughter goes to a small home daycare and uses the toilet there without accidents but refuses to use the toilet at home. I understand that it’s more of a control issue than a potty training issue. I have been letting her wear pull ups at home as long as she puts them on herself. She still refuses to try the toilet. There hasn’t been any event that I can think of that would have scared her. She is very verbal and will tell me that she just doesn’t like to use our potty. She won’t poop at daycare either. She holds it until she gets home and gets a pull up on and then she goes.
Do you think I am doing the right thing by letting her wear pull ups at home? I have tried not letting her, and she lays on the floor and screams. I am trying to make it her idea to use the potty and am trying not to make a big deal about it. She is so stubborn about it that when we “ran out” of pull ups she wore the same one for the entire day. When it leaked down her leg, she changed her pants 4 times, but still refused to use the toilet. Any ideas? I have tried everything (stickers, rewards, bribes, presents, running out of diapers/pull ups, picking out her own underwear, we made a potty for her babies, she has a potty and a seat for the toilet, tried going naked).
“Bad” Preschool Behavior
Q. Our 31/2 year old grandson just started preschool, and has already gotten an email (in 6 days) about how bad his behavior is. Not listening, not being nice with other kids, etc. I don’t think he is old enough to verbalize what is bothering him, so how do we figure out how to help him? I remember your story about your child when she was young and even now you said it almost breaks your heart because she couldn’t say what was bothering her.
A. If your grandson’s preschool is complaining about his behavior,
- They don’t know how to handle impulsive children
- He is not ready for school
- This school is not the right place for him
Or all 3 of these may be true. In any case, I would remove him from this school immediately. If they see him as having “bad” behavior (not true), they do not understand behavior and it likely means they have already decided too much about him that will color all their interactions with him going forward. He needs a preschool that will understand normal, impulsive, boy behavior and how to respond to that behavior effectively. However, if his parents do not NEED him to be in school, then I might keep him home for another 6 months. Or if they can, hire someone to be with him at home. In terms of him verbalizing what the problem is, it is hard. His understanding is from a 3 y.o. perspective, which is not objective at all.
Sharing and Hogging
Q. My three-year-old has a very big issue with sharing and hogging. She has an 18 mo. old sister who is not allowed to touch anything. I understand that my daughter still is having a hard time with her arrival, she has to share me, she doesn’t get to have me all to herself, she doesn’t even get to read books alone with me and on top of it all I am three times as tired, have to do a lot more chores, can’t play with her at the drop of the hat, and she doesn’t get to have all of my adoration just for her. I still feel really guilty about that. At first I thought, fair enough the toys were hers, so I opted to buy my youngest toys for herself. I told my eldest and explained before we bought anything that I was buying for her sister so she doesn’t have to touch hers. She agreed but once the toy is bought she wants to have it and play with it. She gets so angry and hits me when I try to give the toy back to her sister.
A. Your 3 yr. old is not developmentally ready to share or understand that what she agrees to one minute must be agreed to another minute. So every time she is expected to share, she will resist because she feels confused and misunderstood — and most importantly, she wants what she wants when she wants it (absolutely normal).
So many parents complain, especially at holiday and birthday time, how ungrateful their children are. It’s hard to put in all the time, effort, and money into our children’s upbringing and wants and desires only to have them take and take and show no appreciation. So how do we turn this around? How do we raise grateful children?
The irony is that when you expect your children to show appreciation—in other words when your button gets pushed because they don’t, and you react anywhere from subtly guilt-tripping to blowing up—they will only get defensive and you will never see it. Yet when you least expect it and never demand it, that’s when you get it.
The most important key to getting started on raising gratitude is to understand that everything you do for your children, everything you buy, every opportunity you provide is your choice. Nobody is making you buy or do anything. Not even the “everybodies” who all have just what your child is demanding.
If you don’t want your child to have what “everybody else has”, don’t get it. Be clear in yourself and confident of your values. Do not lay it on your child with, “You don’t need that. Just because your friends have it, doesn’t mean you have to.” Instead go with an empathic approach and take responsibility for yourself. “I know it’s hard to be the only one who doesn’t get to see that movie. You really want to be in the know, I get it. Deciding what is okay and what is not is my job. Bummer. You have to live with a mom who sometimes makes you mad.”
Whenever I talk to parents about ending the use of rewards and punishments, I hear, “But doesn’t my child have to experience a consequence for her behavior?” Sounds logical; sounds appropriate. The problem is most parents don’t allow the kinds of consequences that actually teach lessons—natural ones.
Natural consequences of behavior often bring with them sadness, anger, disappointment, even failure for our children, which sometimes reflects negatively on us. We will do anything to avoid that—even by punishing. Taking away a privilege often shuts down a child’s unpleasant feelings or coerces corrected behavior—so we get what we want and think it’s working. Leaving our children to the natural consequences of their behavior may feel like abandoning them to the wolves.
Handing over the job of homework to your child may mean it doesn’t get done or turned in on time. Can you allow that? When children are hitting each other day in and day out, are you willing to learn how to facilitate conflict resolution so they learn to work out their own problems or do you insist on taking something away, blaming one of them, or enforcing separation? Far easier.