Dear LA Teacher,
I’m the mother of two beautiful little girls. I’m also afraid I spoil them too much neglecting proper discipline. Do you have any suggestions what I can do to improve their behavior?
Dear Too Nice,
There are three ways many parents control their children—bribing, yelling, and threatening. Sound familiar? There are alternatives, so hear me out.
Let’s say you take your girls to the Westfield Fashion Square Mall in Sherman Oaks. This could turn out to be a fun day or become a nightmare. It really depends on you. As you walk through the mall your daughter sees a toy store and wants the newest Barbie doll. You tell her no. She throws a tantrum. To keep her quiet she gets what she wants. Yes, bribes work, but they also teach children they can misbehave and be rewarded, too.
Before you head out for the mall, tell your girls the purpose for the trip—three cards, a gift for Grandma, and a Valentines Day present for Daddy. Once you arrive at the mall and enter a store, put your kids to work. For example, to purchase the cards, stroll into the Hallmark shop and have one child look for two or three Valentines cards for Daddy, and the other to locate a couple of birthday cards for Grandma. This teaches your kids responsibility and strengthens reading and comprehension skills. You pick the one you like best. Make sure you praise your children for their good taste and judgment. At the end of the day, let your daughters know how proud you are and take them out for a special treat.
When I was growing up I had two male role models. My father screamed and Uncle Charlie talked. As a father I emulated the latter model. So if my daughters aggravated me I’d leave the room or count to ten. Once I got control of my behavior I was able to negotiate theirs.
My youngest daughter was the challenge. If Koren left her room messy, I’d get on my knees on her carpeted bedroom floor and say, “I’ll help you out. For every item I put away, you put away two. Deal?” Once she agreed to the agreement, we’d get to work chatting along the way. The result was a clean room, no bad feelings, and a huge hug upon completing the job. Remember, it doesn’t take any brains to yell. It does take knowledge of child psychology and human behavior to negotiate.
Finally, make sure you follow through on any threat. If you can’t follow through, then don’t say it. For example, Koren came home from fifth grade failing Social Studies. I told her I could help, an offer she rejected. So I said, “If you get any grade lower than a B on your report card, you’re grounded for a month.” Three weeks later Koren arrived home crying. She earned a D in Social Studies. When I told her she was grounded for a month the tears rivaled any California rainstorm.
For that entire month she had to come home directly after school, do her Social Studies homework with me, and endure my study skills lessons. Once the month was up, Koren’s grades soared. Her next Social Studies report card grade was an A. The follow through I showed my daughter proved I meant business—a trait both my daughters respected. (By the way, today Koren is a second year student at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.)
Prepare children for an activity letting them know their parameters. If you do that, behavior will improve. Also, emulate Uncle Charlie by talking to your kids rather than yelling. Finally, follow-through with any threat you make or say nothing. The goal is to raise children who know their limits and can trust in a parent to maintain those limitations for their benefit.