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Books are great, but….

Honey I Wrecked the Kids, a guide to democratic parenting

My first response after I read that article: I was spanked as a child, grounded, and occasionally yelled at all the way till I was out of the house for bad behavior. I was rewarded for good behavior.  I think it worked out OK.

“allowing your kids to make mistakes and learn from the natural consequences of risky behavior”

Uh, duh, that’s called childhood. You stop them from doing the bloody dangerous stuff that’ll get them really hurt before they can understand the danger (like standing on a piece of furniture that could collapse), but go ahead and allow them to learn from their other mistakes (see, that’s why you don’t knock a LEGO tower over onto yourself).

“no dinner if you won’t sit down at dinner time, but not because we’re punishing you — because that’s when dinner is”

Umm, having a rule or telling them why they are being punished doesn’t mean they didn’t get punished. No dinner is punishment. Period. It doesn’t make a difference if you have a reason or not. A general rule for all punishments, though, is to have a reason, and be ready to supply it. If you punish your child, let them know why. Otherwise you can’t correct the bad behavior. But convincing or trying to convince yourself that you aren’t “punishing” you child when you obviously are, that’s bad parenting behavior.

“and turning confrontations into negotiations”

That’s just a duh of parenting. You have to realize as a parent sometimes the child needs to get their own way, or at least part of their own way. But at the same time, a family isn’t a democracy. While the child is under 18, dad and mom should be king and queen. If you set down a rule, it needs to be followed. However, the “king and queen” need to realize that just like a real kingdom, the king and queen rule only while the subjects let them. Listening to your child is absolutely necessary, because if nothing else pretending you are right all the time will really bite you in the ass when you are proven wrong (and you will be proven wrong, several times). Respect is a two-way road. But your child needs to know that when you say “this is how it’s going to be”, that is how it’s going to be.

That, frankly, is the number one problem I see with other parents when they are having trouble with their kids. The advice I got from my parents about kids was short and sweet: if you threaten a punishment, be ready to do it, and be clear what the punishment is and what it’s for. “You’re gonna get it” or similar threats don’t always work very well.  It might work, but it likely won’t.  It’s unspecified. The child will be likely to misbehave just out of curiosity of what they’ll “get”.

But I don’t know how many times I’ve seen some parent yell at their child that if they don’t behave they were going to [insert punishment here], and when the child kept misbehaving they just continued to yell. That. Does. Not. Work. If you threaten a punishment, and they don’t do what they were supposed to do, then punish. First time, every time. A child’s natural inclination is to push the boundaries to find out where they are, and they will push often (trust me on this). If they know they can go so far before you do anything, they’ll go that far, and possibly further. It surprises me that this seems like a new concept to people. Adults pull this crap all the time! They just tend to do it in subtler ways.

Am I saying that you can’t bend the rules sometime? No. You will be tempted to bend the rules if the child is being extra cute, or if they are sick or had a really rough day, or they’re at Grandpa’s house, or any number of other reasons. But just like when you punish a child, have a reason, and you should possibly tell the child. Make it clear this is why the child is getting something they normally wouldn’t.

Really, it all comes down to communication and reasoning. Try to never punish or reward without a (preferably good) reason. Talk to you child and pay attention to what they want, giving them what they want sometimes (physical items) to often (allowing them to try to do something themselves), but mostly give them what they need. You of course can’t give a child or let a child do everything they want, but listen to what they want and provide a reason why when you don’t allow them to do something or have something. Eight to nine times out of ten Natalie will accept our reason why she can’t do something, as long as she’s told why. She may not fully grasp the reason, but I think it carries a lot more weight if it’s not just “mommy and daddy being mean”.

But remember this: a child will more than likely grow up to be like their parents. Oh, their likes may be different, and their general lifestyle may have taken a complete 180 from how their parents live, but the deep down core values will likely be quite similar. I think parents can forget that children are learning all the time.  For example, when one of my cats was really bugging me I shoved her off the seat (controlled so the cat wouldn’t be hurt, but forceful enough for the cat to get the point). It took a long time to get Natalie to stop shoving the cats out of her way when they occupied a spot she wanted. She had seen me, and she learned. Just the same, if you teach a child that ignoring what you say has no consequences, don’t be surprised if they take that lesson to heart.

Oh, and screaming/yelling? Doesn’t work. Never really has. Oh, I tried it a couple times. It just causes Natalie to start crying and blocking me out, till I have to spend extra time to calm her down, and then half the time I end up doing what she wanted because I’m frustrated and I just want things to be better again. 95-ish% of the time, though, a calm voice telling her “how it is” or “how it’s going to be” works for me (the other 5% of the time she’s usually in a “mood” and nothing I say would have worked anyway). My staying calm also helps Natalie to stay calm, so I can actually find out what she wants or why she’s upset. And really most of the time I let her have/do what she wants, because it’s usually something tiny, like she wanted to turn a light off, or she wanted to open a door by herself. There’s few things more inwardly embarrassing than to yell at a child, have them yell and cry and throw a fit back, and in the end find out it was all because of something stupid that you would have let them do/have in the first place.

Books like the one linked above, though, can sometimes just piss me off, if just for the part about the “logical consequences” of a rule/behavior isn’t considered a “punishment”.  Bull.  Shit.  That’s just a excuse to try and help parents feel better for actually taking action against their child.  Oh, I’m not punishing her, it’s just the logical consequence.  Ugh.  A punishment should be the logical consequence to bad behavior.  Renaming it doesn’t change it.  And negotiation is just a calmer confrontation.

In the end, though, what are three things I can tell you about parenting?  True parenting doesn’t come from a book, no single set of rules will get you through it, and you will make many mistakes.  Heck, my daughter isn’t even 3 years old yet and I know these things already (the last one especially).  But as my daughter is learning, so am I.  As Marge Simpson once said, I figure I just need to stay one lesson ahead of the kid.  :)