How often have you given your child an ultimatum: "Put on your shoes or we'll stay home!" only to receive an answer that has completely bypassed your disciplinary effort: "Okay, we'll stay home!" On occasion, our skills and tactics backfire on us. But as parents, we learn to pick our battles (there have been times where I've let my daughter step out of the house with her tiara and wand, despite it not being a festive holiday). However, you do need to prove that you are the parent - at least some of the time. Here are 8 ways you can go about it.
1. Don't do it: Tell a lie
There's a good chance that you might get caught and will have some explaining to do. For example, let's say you want your child to go to the babysitter, but she refuses. To convince her to go you give her an ultimatum - the babysitter or the daycare run by cavemen. With her having chosen the former, you may feel satisfied with your momentary decision to tell a lie. But there's a high chance your child may tell others about it, and when they do, you'll likely be put into a situation where you'll have some explaining to do.
Try this instead: While telling little white lies or using scare tactics is tempting (and you may even get away with it sometimes too), they can and will come back to haunt you. Try to empathize with your child instead: "I know sometimes you don't want to go to your babysitter. Sometimes, I don't want to go to work."
2. Don't do it: Back down
Saying things like "give the toy back or I'll take it away" but not acting on what you just said, is a sure-fire way for your kids to never listen to you.
Try this instead: While being the bad guy is something parents often try to steer clear of, repeatedly saying things like "give it back or I'll take it away" won't stop the behavior. Rather, what your child hears is: "I can keep doing this a few more times until mom makes me stop." The best approach would be to give a warning, and if they do it again, act on their behavior by giving them an immediate response, such as a timeout. If they continue, leave. The next time, a gentle reminder should do the trick: "Remember how we had to leave early when you wouldn't give the toy back? I hope we don't have to go home early again today."
3. Don't do it: Undermine your partner's disciplinary tactics
In most families, one parent tends to enforce discipline more than the other. For example, if we're out for a treat and I tell my daughter: "You need to behave or you won't get a treat", but my husband ends up giving in, even if she has acted up, the right message is not being passed along.
Try this instead: While my husband may not mean to undermine my efforts, that's exactly what he's doing. But in showing that we are united and in agreement, will not only help our child's behavior, it prevents us from feeling like the bad guys all the time. Our punishments don't need to be similar, as long as there are consequences for the actions. A good solution would be to discuss a list of rules and various options, ensuring that you are both on the same page.
4. Don't do it: Bribe a little too often
In some situations, a bribe every now and then may help, but choose your situation carefully. For example, if your child is a fussy eater and refuses to eat all their veggies, telling them you can have a piece of chocolate after you've eaten all your lunch may work to your disadvantage the next time round, as they'll likely expect a treat each time.
Try this instead: As opposed to using a bribe, try reinforcing behavior. Instead of saying: "If you're good at grandma's today, I'll buy you a toy," try "I'm really proud of you for being so well-behaved at grandma's today". Expressing disappointment will also work: "I'm really sad you broke the present daddy gave me" will make a child feel appropriately bad about their behavior. While it may make you feel like a terrible parent, truthful expression will help them develop a conscience.
5. Don't do it: Break your own rules
Just as telling a lie can backfire on you, so can breaking your own rules. For instance, consider a scenario where you have caught your child doing something they shouldn't be. To correct their behavior, take their hand, tell them "no" and give them a small slap. While this technique may correct the behavior at home, there is a high possibility that your child may be caught reenacting your disciplinary behaviors on others at school. At that point, you cannot really tell your child that "hitting your friends is wrong".
Try this instead: Children will mimic your behaviors - even the bad ones. Try a warning and a time-out when disciplining your child instead.
6. Don't do it: Lose it
Taking care of a toddler requires a lot of patience. And while we may be caught in moments where we want to scream and yell, doing so is unlikely to solve the problem.
Try this instead: Time-outs aren't only great for kids, they work great for adults too. So, in a heated moment, allow yourself to walk away, take a deep breath and count to 10. Doing so will help you with disciplining your child effectively. If you can't leave your child alone, both of you should go into another room. More often than not, a change of scenery will help you cool off.
7. Don't do it: Wait too long
When reinforcing discipline, make sure that what you are enforcing can be managed at that time. For instance, if your child is misbehaving in the car, telling them "no story before bedtime" will likely be pointless if bedtime is hours away.
Try this instead: Be it an hour later or the next day, kids won't remember what they did wrong. You need to show the consequences of their actions as close to the bad behavior as possible.
8. Don't do it: Talk on and on
At times it may be tempting to go off into long explanations or instructions, but explaining why your child shouldn't eat cookies before dinner because it will spoil their appetite and so on will go right over their heads.
Try this instead: Remember that kids are not mini-adults. Saying "no cookies before dinner" is enough to get the point across. Take care in using words that they may not understand too. For instance, if you tell your child to "stop whining" make sure that they know what whining means.