“Timmy? Clean up your room.” No response. “Timmy?” Nothing, so now you’re resorting to just yelling. “TIMMY CLEAN UP YOUR DAMN ROOM RIGHT NOW!” As a parent, can you relate to this? Why aren’t these kids listening to us the first time? Why do you have to yell in order to get their ears to finally perk up? Well, to make a long story short, it’s because you and they have been trained into this behavior. Next time just yell at them really loud the first time and that will solve it. I’m kidding, of course, yelling the first time will just teach them to ignore you all of the time in time because then they will just ignore you no matter what you do short of taking away something that they enjoy or swatting their rear ends. As the saying goes, “no press is bad press.” The same can be said about the kids, treating them badly will get you more of a response from them then if you ignored them outright. The truth is that yelling at kids is a reinforcement and not a punishment so kids will never learn to improve their behavior as long as that is the tact, we take to get their attention. What we really need to do is train them to react to you the first time by changing how you talk to them.
Your kids always have a choice. In the above scenario, the kids have the choice to cooperate with you or ignore what you said. With any choice, there needs to be a consequence and you can use this principle to set up your future interactions to become more successful. From previous blog posts here, you heard me say that we control ourselves and cannot control others. The truth is that you can’t control your kids’ attitudes, they control how they choose to deal with what you tell or yell at them. Instead, concentrate on what you can control, YOUR reactions and how YOU interact with them. Get in front of them, be face to face, eye to eye and if they are small it helps to come down to their level. Then like in the scenario we started out with; you will let Timmy know that he has two choices. Even if there are a dozen things you need to be done, always break it down to two choices. And when you give them a choice, make sure both are choices you are fine with because that’s what you will be telling Timmy. Here are your two choices and either one of which you are fine with them executing. The reason why you give them two choices? Well, what happened when we asked them to do something if they even heard us in the first place? They chose an option that you didn’t want, am I right? The decision to instead ignore you, play the iPad, harass their siblings, anything other than what you asked of them to do. So, when you right off the bat give them two choices to choose from. “Timmy, you can either clean your room or you can hire someone to do it for you.” Maybe they decide they want to barter with their siblings to do the work and then their sibling, in turn, can barter to help them back with another task that they may have. With my twin boys, one likes to do the dishes and the other hates it. The other boy likes to sweep the floor and the other does not. These are examples of how they can make a decision to complete an order that you give them without making a bad other choice and the work you wanted to be done gets completed. If the kids are big enough and have a job if they want to pay someone to do their chores, fine with me as long as it gets done and done fast and correctly. Maybe with a really small child on the flip side, you can give them a choice like you can either hold my hand and come with me or you can sit on my shoulders and come with me. Either way, the kid is coming with you and you have given them a choice on how to come with you and made it a little fun in the process as well. This beats how I did it in the past, “are you going to come with me or am I going to have to leave you at home grounded in your room alone?” It’s an idle threat and they know it because you’re not going to leave the kid alone at home and this also beats all the yelling.
Now, taking the example above, we have to be true to our words and have to stick to our agreements even if the kids didn’t stick to them. Let’s say Timmy had chosen to have someone else clean the room and then, of course, it never happened? Guess who ends up being the person they hire than? Guess what, it’s you, parent! And you know, you charge $250 an hour to do chores, that’s the rate you demand to do the work that they wouldn’t do. Of course, no kids can afford that and so they are back to having two choices again and we established that they can’t afford to hire you at $250 an hour to do the work. Hopefully, then they learn to do it themselves or you get creative in finding another option to get them to clean that room. The whole point is to think instead of fighting with them. When you take time to think the issue through and give them options to also themselves have to think through, you now have their attention and they can feel like they have options. When you give them the option to wait until your mad and have to yell, they have chosen to wait until it becomes a fight before they have to deal with you, in their mind it’s a possible “get out of doing a chore-free card” if you don’t follow through all of the time. This is one way you can begin to train them to treat your voice more positively and consistently and remember you have to be consistent as well.