Today I would like to help you get rid of one idea, an idea that causes many problems. It is an assumption called “The little grown up”: The idea is that kids are adults in small containers: they know the difference between what is right and what is wrong, they know how to control themselves, they are selfish and are motivated to follow directions. If your son is bothering her sister, you just need to explain him why it is not OK to bother others and your son will respond by saying “I never thought it that way. Thank you mommy, I’ll never bother my sister again.” Or “Yes, mommy, I’ll clean my room right away.”
No, kids do not respond that way. Somebody once wrote “Childhood is a temporary phase of psychosis.” It is our job as parents and teachers to turn them into reasonable people.
If you believe in the idea of “little adults” it is very likely that more often than not you get into the “talk-convince-argue-yell” mode. You start talking to your non-compliant child. When that doesn’t work, you attempt to convince her. When that doesn’t work, you start arguing, which easily leads to yelling. When “adult reasoning” doesn’t work, you become frustrated and even angry. You feel that your child woke up that morning determined to make your day miserable.
So here is my suggestion: rather than thinking that your kids are “little adults” think you are a “child trainer, and educator.” Your job is to teach behaviors. And the same way you don’t get frustrated when your child says that 7 + 4 is 10, and instead you go on to explaining and teaching, when your daughter throws a tantrum in the supermarket you have to patiently leave the cart full of groceries aside, escort her outside of the store, help her calm down, and tell her that she’ll get an ice-cream if she helps you with groceries. You are a teacher who has a topic to teach, has a methodology of teaching and will repeat the lesson as many times as needed until the students learn. And if there is a student who has a harder time than others, will seat with him and teach him one-on-one. That’s a good teacher.
In this blogs I share with you methods and tolls to become a great teacher. Let’s cover today two main mistakes parents make when disciplining their kids:
1. Talking too much
2. Getting too emotional
In my 20 plus years working with parents I met devoted and patient ones that share two traits: they don’t give long speeches and they are emotionally detached when disciplining their kids. I mentioned above the “talk-convince-argue-yell” mode, which happens when you talk too much. Let’s see the getting too emotional mistake: Kids want to have control over a world that seems to be controlled by adults. And sometimes making you upset is the only way to achieve control, in their perception. Therefore, by getting upset, you are reinforcing the undesired behavior. I asked once a child I worked with why he seemed to enjoy making her mom mad. And his answer was “Because she makes funny faces.”
Talk less, do more. And always, no matter how frustrated you are, poker face. I hope this is helpful.
Daniel Adatto, BCBA