Having young children means I have to keep them busy. When I’m keeping them busy, it’s usually at places where there are other parents trying to keep their own kids busy. All those kids and all those parents means I get to see a lot of different personalities and parenting styles. I hate to say it, but most of those parents don’t seem to have a lot of control over their children’s behavior. At home it’s not embarrassing and who knows how they handle it… but in public it’s a different story. They all seem to employ the same techniques… and none of them work the way you’d think they would.
The Technique: Dad is trying to get Billy to be good in line at Disney World. He says, “If you don’t straighten up, we won’t go swimming later!”
The Problem: Billy is six. He lives in the moment. He only knows how he feels right now… and he’s bored. Plus, he knows you’re not going to ruin the entire family’s plans. You’ve threatened before and never followed through.
The Proper Solution: Billy is bored… but that’s no excuse for bad behavior. Billy needs a time out until he can get his attitude straight. Leave the line, sit Billy down and calmly explain to him that Vacation is on hold until he can control his attitude. The moment Billy pulls it together, jump back in line. If Billy freaks because we’re now at the end of the line, explain that’s what happens when you’re not happy with what you have. If Billy freaks again… lather, rinse, repeat.
The Technique: Mindy won’t eat her McDonald’s and won’t sit still. Mom promises that we’ll get ice cream if she’ll eat her nuggets.
The Problem: Mindy is eating McDonald’s. You should never have to be bribed to eat McDonald’s. Mindy has learned that if she’s bad, she gets rewarded so she pulls this just about every time she can. Plus, she’s so focused on ice cream that she can’t possibly focus on finishing lunch. Also, Mom will probably get ice cream later anyway to keep Mindy from pitching a fit… so for Mindy, it’s a win-win.
The Proper Solution: Mindy gets a time limit. If she finishes, great. If she doesn’t she gets to see it go into the trash. If she pitches a fit, it’s nap time when we get home.
The Technique: Little Blake has lost his mind in the shopping cart because Mom walked past the toy aisle on accident and didn’t stop. Mom is embarrassed so she runs back and lets Blake pick out a toy which turns into an ordeal of it’s own.
The Problem: Like Mindy above, Blake has learned that throwing a fit gets results! He’s being rewarded for bad behavior. Plus, he’s young… and kids have a hard time making choices. Some kids enjoy whipping their parents into a frustrated frenzy. If they can’t get positive attention, they’re more than happy with manipulation.
The Proper Solution: Blake needs to be ignored. He doesn’t need a toy every time he sees one. It’ll be embarrassing. People will look at Mom like she’s being abusive… but eventually little Blake will run out of energy and accept his fate. He’ll learn that his temper gets him nothing!
The Technique: It’s time to leave Chic-Fil-A so Mom, knowing how younger sister Starla can be, sends older sister, Lisa into the playplace to get her.
The Problem: Mom is putting Lisa into an unfair position. She’s been charged with a task that is going to frustrate everyone involved. Starla isn’t going to listen. Lisa isn’t going to get the results Mom wanted. Mom’s hoping to avoid drama and she is… but only at the expense of her daughter’s stress level.
The Proper Solution: Before Starla goes to play, Mom tells her how long she’s got… and what will happen when we get home if there is a temper tantrum. When it’s almost time to go, Mom comes in to tell her she’s got 5 minutes left to play then it’s time to go. This gives Starla time to adjust and will help keep outbursts to a minimum. At one minute till Mom comes back to tell Starla to get her shoes on. If she has an outburst, Mom simply follows through with what the promised would happen once they get home. Mom is patient and doesn’t lose her temper. Eventually Starla gives up, puts on the shoes and leaves.
Even great kids lose it. The trick for parent’s is to stop caring how they’re being perceived in public. Do what needs to be done for the betterment of your child. That takes patience and self-control. If you get embarrassed and lost your temper… they’ve won.
Natural Rewards & Consequences
Children, at their core, are simple creatures. They’re not so different from us. Behavior that has benefits to them is repeated. Behavior that has negative consequences are not. Two simple categories right? Yes… but they both apply in two ways. Let me break it down like this:
- Good behaviors that have naturally occurring benefits will be repeated.
- Good behaviors that have naturally occurring (seemingly) negative consequences will not be repeated.
- Bad behaviors that have a naturally occurring benefit will be repeated.
- Bad behaviors that have a naturally occurring negative consequences will not be repeated.
Basically I’m trying to point out that some good behaviors are their own reward… other good behaviors are not. Some, like cleaning a room, have built-in benefits. Others, like telling the truth, can seem to have consequences rather than rewards for our kids. Our goal as proper disciplinarians is to exaggerate the benefits of good behavior and the consequences of the bad. This becomes especially important when life seems to reward the bad and punish the good. Parents are wise when they provide incentives for children to choose the right over the wrong in spite of naturally occurring consequences.
Rewardable Behavior & Expected Behavior
If you’ve read any of my other articles on Proper Discipline then you know that I believe in setting Minimum Standards for your Child. Minimum standards help you to be consistent when discouraging unwanted behavior. On the other end of the spectrum is what I would call Expectations. Expectations is a fair and achievable set of goals we set for our children’s behavior.
Have a look at the diagram below:
Anything between your Minimum Requirements and your Expectations is Expected or Good Behavior. Note that even the color of the background has a purpose. Expected behavior is not Perfect Behavior. Children are still allowed to have moods, bad hair days and etc… as long as they don’t drop below our Minimum Requirements. Anything above our Expectations is Rewardable Behavior… and anything that drops blow our Minimum Requirements is punishable. I keep this diagram as a mental image in my mind when dealing with my children. Placing a mental pin on based on their current behavior helps me know what my reaction should be.
Practical Application Time
Enough theory… let’s put this into practice. There was a time that my daughter got a Skittle every time she went potty. Back in the day going potty was an action that rose above her expected behavior at the time since she was still wearing diapers. Once that behavior became standard and expected, the reward was removed. I’m not going to be giving her Skittles for the rest of her life! That girl goes so much she’d be bigger than me by now!
I also don’t reward her for keeping her room clean. It’s expected behavior and it has it’s own reward. She loves her room once it’s clean. She’s learning to put things away faster so she can enjoy it once she’s done. Currently there are rewards for eating or at least trying certain foods. My girl is a very picky eater… and though we don’t make her eat things she outright doesn’t like… we insist that she tries one bite each time we have it. Our Minimum Requirement is that she eat at least one bite. Our Expectation (or Goal) is that she will develop a taste eventually and eat it all. She is praised verbally when she tries the food, and she has gotten better at it, but we save dessert for when she eats a fair bit or all. Recently she finally decided she liked mashed potatoes (told you she was picky) and she was rewarded.
- Some behaviors have their own rewards and consequences.
- Parents need to make sure good behaviors are rewarding and bad behaviors have consequences especially when life rewards bad behavior or punishes good.
- Expected behavior is appreciated but not rewarded.
- Rewardable behavior is that which exceeds your expectations at the time.
- Today’s Rewardable Behavior is tomorrow’s Expected Behavior.
If this made any sense at all… or if you have questions… please post them in the comments. If there are ever any more specific questions I can answer concerning discipline, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Every parent has goals for their children. Not just goals for the future… but what we want from them now. Most of us have a mental picture of what we expect from our children. A list of unwritten rules and expectations that we constantly refer to and use to help judge their behavior by.
The problem with this ‘picture’ is that it typically changes depending on our mood, our location or situation. When we’re short tempered we can be too nit-picky and when we’re happy, it’s sometimes easier to let things slide that we shouldn’t. If you’re a person who’s prone to being hot-tempered, like most men I know, we sometimes won’t discipline because we can’t trust ourselves to be good judges of behavior because we’re over reactors.
One way to overcome all of these issues is to set minimum requirements for your child’s behavior. Minimum requirements are the least amount of behavior that you will stand for in any situation. When you set minimum requirements it doesn’t matter what your mood is. Whether you’re in a good or bad mood, if your child steps below those minimum requirements you know you have to step in and correct the behavior. This is especially good for those who don’t trust themselves to be consistent in discipline.
For example, my expectations for bedtime for my four year old daughter is for her to brush her teeth, brush out her hair, no whining, no complaining, and 9:00 PM bedtime. Anything less than this behavior needs to be corrected. This is the case whether I’m in a good or bad mood. My minimum requirements for dinner are different. She eats the same thing we’re having, she doesn’t have to eat it all but she must taste everything at least once. She can’t take forever to eat and no complaining. Any behavior less than those requirements gets corrected.
Of course my standards are higher. My expectations for are much higher. I expect more than the minimum but anything above the minimum doesn’t mean to be corrected. It doesn’t necessarily need to be rewarded either… But we’ll talk about rewards another time.
So setting minimum requirements for church, home, extracurricular activities, school, chores and whatever else can be a great guide for parents. They help us know when to step in and help kids to change inappropriate behavior before it becomes bad behavior. Think of it like a pain of a candle flame that causes you to pull your hand back from the pain that keeps you from burning your hand off. It’s uncomfortable, but better than the alternative.
In future posts will talk about rewardable behavior and expected behavior. Battle of the teacher comments and feedback on setting minimum behavior standards or any other discipline topic in the comments below.