There is this amazing local hummus company in Austin. The hummus is so tangy and delicious that it makes you forget that any other kind of hummus exists. I had thrown some in the grocery cart last week, as I was rushing to finish shopping with my girls, 18 months and 3 1/2.
My youngest has an amazing set of lungs and loves to test them out by screaming louder than a bullhorn. Her older sister was also screaming, or singing Let It Go- impossible to know the difference. I dashed down one last aisle, and I paused to try and remember what I needed from the freezer section.
I only stopped for a second but as I turned back around Corinne launched the hummus down the aisle. I should mention that her throwing abilities are on par with her screaming skills. The humus skipped down the almost-empty aisle like a flat stone on a still pond. It broke open and hummus squirted out with every bounce.
The only other shopper on the aisle screamed. I caught a look of very real fear on her face, understandable given the projectile container, spraying hummus and cacophony of screams. I had to ask if she had been hit, retrieve the hummus bomb and find a store employee to confess to.
I mention this stellar parenting moment, one of many, because I don't want to give off the impression that I think I have this parenting thing down to a science. Anyone who has seen me chase my runaway toddler, attempt to deescalate my melting Kindergartener or otherwise try to move my troop around town can attest to this. I am just doing my best, learning as I go, and some days throwing in the towel early, turning on a Peppa Pig marathon and pouring myself a glass of wine.
But there are things I learned teaching that I find particularly helpful as parent, and it is my goal to share these things with other parents, as I did in this post about getting kids to do what you ask. And there is one thing I learned NEVER to do- through experience and education. It's something I have done before but I always instantly regret it and try not to repeat the mistake...
So what is this parenting sin? This super common tactic that devalues everything else we do as parents?
"If you don't stop pinching your brother we are leaving this party right now!"
"Stop that or we are leaving the restaurant."
"If you don't clean your room I am donating ALL YOUR TOYS."
Now, if you think these consequences are logical and appropriate for the situation, and you are wiling to leave the party or restaurant or donate the toys, then go for it.
But if it's a threat that you don't want to follow through on? That's a teacher no-no.
I understand the appeal, which is why I have made this mistake myself- both in teaching and as a parent. Behavior is so hard, and there are no magic quick tricks to reliably change behavior in the moment. The BIG THREAT seems like the best option in a crisis.
But the second we don't follow through, we lose credibility- in that moment and for the future.
I had a professor who warned us about this behavioral trap. She told us that when she was teaching she had a student who was perfectly capable of finishing an activity, but was refusing to try. It wasn't that much work, but she told the student she had to finish the work before she could leave. And the student decided to call the teacher's bluff. The teacher held her ground.
The stalemate continued as the end of the period came and went. It continued through a phone call to Mom, and the end of the school day. The student's mother eventually came down to the school, with some macaroni and cheese for the student (and teacher!) to eat for dinner, after which the student gave in and finished her work.
Who learned a lesson? The teacher.
I completely understand the appeal of the BIG THREAT, but I have managed to largely avoid this tactic using these 3 tips:
1. Downsize the consequence.
A few years ago, we decided to take the family to Chuck E Cheese. My son had been begging to go and we decided to make the trip. The entire car ride there, he was a terror. He was throwing things, whining and screaming. We seriously considered turning the car around. But would that have been fair to his sister? But on the other hand, who brings a child acting like THAT into a reward zone? We explained to our son when we arrived that his behavior showed he wasn't ready to go inside and we needed a few minutes in the car to calm down. Dad took his sister inside, and we joined a few minutes later.
So maybe your daughter is refusing to do her summer reading. Instead of threatening to CANCEL the family vacation, you bring the books and schedule reading time before a ride to the beach. Or, maybe instead of storming out of the family Christmas party, you take a boring "break" in an out of the way room. Instead of giving away the toys that don't get picked up, you put them away for a week.
Smaller consequences may not have the immediate impact you are looking for, but they will likely be more effective in the long run. Consistency is KEY in changing behavior.
2. Evaluate the circumstances.
We all want our children to behave. And yet, just when we care even more- at the family reunion, a school interview or our work barbecue, they decide to do that crazy thing they have NEVER done before. My own children have doled out this type of parent-embarrassment many times. But once you step back and evaluate the situation, you may find a more effective way to handle your child's extra-special behavior.
When we are on vacation, or have guests in town, I often let my children stay up late. This is mostly because I am being LAZY and enjoying some time with my friends or family instead of wrangling the kiddos into bed. Then why am I shocked when my little ones lose it at lunch the next day?
So when I am facing down a meltdown, I ask myself, are they hungry, tired or thirsty? Is the normal routine SO out of whack that my children are losing it? It's not about making excuses for behavior, but about understanding that there may be a simpler solution.
3. This too shall pass.
I know, cliches... but really, this one cliche has helped me more as a mom than all of the other ones put together. Behavior is hard to change, and most behavior change takes time. So use your downsized consequence and consider the circumstances, but above all else remember to remain consistent and that this behavioral phase won't last forever.
And while you wait for it to pass, you can eat your feelings in some really awesome hummus. (The hummus people didn't pay me to write this. I'm certain they don't know who I am, but their humus is a game changer.)
So that's how I avoid making the BIG threats... do you have any tricks of your own? Or a threat your parents used on you? Do share!