Is there an epidemic of poor parenting today?
As a counselor and Intentional Living Coach, parents frequently ask me about childhood behavioral issues. I have noticed a growing trend in the last dozen or so years of inadequate parenting skills. Many professionals have written articles and blogs tackling the possible reasons for what seems to be a social or cultural shift. In an attempt to reverse the curve to this frustrating problem for otherwise caring parents, I offer this tip to parents of young children.
Several years ago while leading a parenting class, one mom asked if her 3-year-old son could accompany her during our class since childcare at that particular church was not available that evening. About half way through the 60-minute class the child became disruptive, and the mother’s attempt to handle the situation was almost as disruptive as the child. As his behavior erupted into a screaming, unrelenting tantrum, I excused the other parents, cutting our class short 15 mins. Thankfully, they were understanding and kind, not only to me but more importantly to the frazzled mom.
I knew the young woman in her early twenties was a temporarily “single mom,” as she often referred to herself, while her husband was serving in the military in the Middle East. I also knew she had two other sons, slightly older. She had shared with me that she did not have the best parenting skills, which was evidenced by her response to her children’s behavior on Sunday mornings. The good news is that this mom continued to bring her children to church. I celebrate that, especially after she shared with me how difficult it was to get to church on Sunday mornings.
As the parents exited my classroom that evening, I walked over to the mom who was kneeling on the floor attempting to rationalize with her child. I put my hand on her shoulder and asked, “May I help?” With a seemingly defeated spirit, she nodded. I walked to the far side of the classroom and placed a chair against the wall (back of the chair against the wall). I returned to the mom and coached her to
1) tell her child his behavior is not acceptable (stoop down and get on eye level);
2) inform him that because of “his choice to misbehave” he was going to have to sit in time-out;
3) walk the child over to the chair and place him in it.
The mother complied with these step-by-step instructions. But you probably know what’s coming next. The child did not remain in the chair, at which time the mother stated, “He won’t stay there.” I told her, confidently, that he would. Standing alongside her, I coached her to repeat once more steps #1 and #2. As I expected, the child got off of the chair. “Again,” I said, “this time don’t repeat the instructions, just place him on the chair.” The frazzled child was growing more angry and stubborn and the mom grew increasingly weary. She turned to me and said, “He won’t stay.” I advised her to continue to place him on the chair until he did stay. When her son finally remained seated on the chair (about 15-20 mins. later), still crying and screaming, I guided the mom to the other side of the room. The child followed. I coached her to return the child to the chair, saying nothing. Finally, when the child remained in the chair and the mom and I were standing about 25 feet away – the child still carrying on, the mom was fidgeting as she watched her son. I asked her to face the opposite direction (switching places with her) so that her child was no longer in her view. “I’ll watch him. He’ll be fine.” With her back now to her child she began to repeatedly say, “This is not going to work; I know him.” I coached her on the reasons it WAS going to work.
It is important to communicate to the child that he is in time-out because of HIS CHOICE to misbehave; and there are consequences to bad choices. It is also important for parents to love their child through their misbehavior; the parent’s discipline will not be acceptable in the eyes of God when love is missing. I also encourage parents to walk away and gain self-control during challenging moments when they become angry or their level of stress rises. It may be helpful to have the other parent or a grandparent carry out the discipline if that is a loving and available option. By the way, if you are a parent who chooses to spank your child, consider this: If your discipline technique is effective, spankings* shouldn’t be needed, especially at this young age. At all times, begin with your words, adding a firm tone of voice. And finally, add one more MUST HAVE ingredient:
If you remove this step, you are back to square one. Consistent discipline through loving parenting (not permissive, not militant) helps the child understand what to expect from the parent when they make poor choices. Prevention is the best alternative, so set your child up for success.
So, how did the lesson work out with the mom in the parenting class? As she continued to tell me she appreciated my help but this approach was not going to work with her strong-willed son, I smiled and turned her attention toward her son from my view. He was sitting in the chair, gaining composure, as he sniffled and took in gasps of air, exhausted from his tantrum. “I don’t believe it!” she quietly exclaimed repeatedly. I continued to coach the mom as she walked over to her son. She knelt down next to the chair as the boy reached out to her and said, “I’m sorry, Mommy.” I instructed the mom to ask if he knew why he had to be placed in time-out. He repeated he was sorry. The mom reminded him of his poor choice to not listen to her, kicking and screaming at her, and she reminded him it was not okay to behave this way. I then coached the mom to make this a teachable moment and tell her son what other choices he could have made instead (listen to Mommy, etc.).
I smiled as the mother loved on her son – hugging him while telling him she loved him. I encouraged the mom to be consistent in her discipline, taking advantage of teachable moments, and expressing clear and appropriate love daily. [Note: How long should a child remain in time out? Count the minutes according to their age: 3 years old = 3 mins.] Later that week I received an email from the mother stating she tried the time out at home, and was amazed it continued to work so well.
Parents, I encourage you to invite God into your parenting and disciplining. Remove God from anything and it will suffer.
Let Him be your guiding Light and learn to trust that subtle nudge when you sense something is wrong. The best thing you can do as a parent is to lead by example. Build good character in yourself. Thankfully, our loving, Heavenly Father has provided an example for us to follow in Christ Jesus.
*If you are a parent who chooses to spank your child, this should be a last resort. I strongly urge parents (guardians, grandparents) to never use a belt or other object – this is abusive. If your discipline technique is effective, spankings shouldn’t be needed, or at least a very rare occasion. Whenever correcting your child, do not enforce discipline when you have lost control; instead, perhaps you need a time-out (take a break!). Make a choice to build a strong support. And remember to back off of the busy schedule and do something fun! Enjoy your child.
How often do you take time to play, or just have fun with your child?
Suggest a fun activity parents can do with their child.