Action Before Conversation
For the sake of our children, it is actually better for parents to take action and talk less. Act first and talk later. Parents spend far too much time explaining and reasoning with kids, rather than taking action. Try “get off the top of the refrigerator NOW” instead of “how many times have I told you that it is not safe?” Or a simple “pick it up” rather than a lecture entitled “I love a clean San Diego!” Ask children to take action immediately instead of giving them lengthy explanations.
Whose job is it anyway? Have you ever noticed that as parents’ energy investment in a given task or situation gets larger, the child’s gets smaller? If you’re working harder at getting your child’s chores done than she or he is, try a little experiment: communicate your message as succinctly and firmly as possible, then bite your tongue and silently count to twenty. If the child hasn’t moved, gently assist him physically in the direction of the desired behavior. Then repeat your brief message a second time using the same words, voice tone, and volume. Bite your tongue again, and count to twenty. If the child still isn’t cooperating, move to action.
Time-out is a great intervention. The child loses something they want – contact with other people and ordinary activities – while gaining an invaluable skill: self control. There are some helpful rules of thumb for time-out:
- Length should be one minute for each year of a child’s age
- When the time is up, the child should be given an opportunity to come out of time-out and practice self-control
- If the child achieves self control before the time-out is up, let him out early. They have risen to the challenge and it should be immediately acknowledged
- Time-out should not be more fun than the problem behavior that earned it.
Withdrawal of privileges can also inspire a young person to be a good cooperator. But make sure you impose a loss that makes the child suffer more than the parent! Grounding a teenager for the rest of his or her life might prove too much to handle for mom or dad.
Action before conversation is especially important during times of transition. Some transitions are natural and expected, like the birth of a new child. Others are unexpected and create a crisis, like divorce. If you are in transition, stop and think before you make decisions about parenting. You may inadvertently burden a child with adult concerns. Or you may withhold appropriate discipline because of guilt or fear. So talk problems over with a trusted adult before talking to your child.
Listening is one of the most important skills of a good parent. So once the child has responded to your intervention, accomplished the task, and/or regained self-control, have a talk. Ask the child to tell you their understanding of what was negative about his behaviors, also what is positive. Support all attempts at honest communication, and keep it brief. Take your cues from the child for the end of the conversation. Then take action again. A hug would probably be just right.