"What should I do when my son won't eat what I prepare?" asks Bobby's mother. "How should I handle it when my daughter argues with me?" asks Alicia's father.
Like Bobby's mom and Alicia's dad, most parents believe that technique is the key to successful discipline. They think that just as there's one drug for combating the flu and another for healing a skin rash, there are different methods for dealing with different behavior problems. They would be surprised to learn that self-confidence, not method, is the essence of successful discipline.
In effect, self-confident parents say to their children, "You will do as I say not because I promise you a new toy, or put stars on charts, or threaten you with a spanking. You will do as I say because I say so."
Four Little Words
Unfortunately, there is great misunderstanding about those four old-fashioned words. Many people consider them repressive, even potentially damaging. But self-confident parents don't prevent their children from expressing opinions. Nor do they forbid disagreement. They realize that children will not agree with many of their decisions. They're willing to talk -- but not argue -- about their rules and expectations. When all is said and done, however, one thing remains clear: Parents make the final decisions and children are to do as they're told.
When parents fail to establish this understanding, discipline problems are inevitable. No technique will work in the hands of a parent who lacks self-confidence. In this case, a new technique might send a misbehaving child into "retreat" for a while, but sooner or later the child will see that, while the method may have changed, the parent has not. At this point, the method will stop working. When you act with confidence, you will only have to use specific disciplinary methods occasionally. More often than not, a word or two, or even a certain look, is sufficient to resolve the problem at hand. Furthermore, when you feel the need for more than words, just about any method will work.
Self-confident parents display the following traits:
- They communicate their rules clearly. They don't "beat around the bush" when it comes to what they expect. They don't plead, bribe, or threaten. They simply, and straightforwardly, tell their children what they can do, can't do, and must do.
- They plan ahead. They don't wait for problems to develop before doing something about them. For example, if 4-year-old Julie's mother knows that Julie is likely to throw a tantrum in a store, she decides beforehand that when the tantrum occurs, she's going to take Julie out to the car and wait with her until the tantrum is over. Now, when Julie throws a tantrum, the child sees that her mother isn't pitched off balance. Because her mother demonstrates control, Julie is better able to bring her tantrum under control.
- They follow through consistently. Danielle's parents tell her that whenever she fails to get ready for school on time, she won't be allowed to play outside or watch television after school, and she will have to go to bed one hour early. Even though she has only one successful morning the first week, her parents persist. It took nearly two weeks for Danielle to convince herself that her parents meant business, but from that point on, she has succeeded at getting ready on time.