I saw the potato chip fly across the table.
We’re at the mall food court and next to us sits a mom and her two boys. At that moment, I feel for her.
“Jonathan,” she placated, “Why did you throw this at me?”
“WELL! Aaron threw at me! It’s not MINE!”
Aaron sat next to her examining the contents of his plate.
“Oh fine… well, it’s not nice.”
I stare at my plate of tacos. What just happened here? Because the way I see it,
- Aaron threw food at his brother with no sort of rebuke
- Jonathan threw food at his mom with no consequence
I fight to stay quiet. It is not my place. I am not the parent.
The family picks up to leave and again a fight erupts.
“NO!! I WANTED THE ORANGE ONE!”
“Ok, Ok, you can have the orange one.”
The other son looked on. “That’s no fair! Why does he always get what he wants?”
“He doesn’t always get what he wants. Here, we’ll go back and get you an orange one too”
She looks ready to cry. Her two sons are pulling her along – arguing, tantruming, yelling so that most of the food court is now sneaking glances between bites of burritos.
They slink off – she has no control – and she knows it. But right now, she doesn’t see an alternative.
This doesn’t have to happen
I know moms like this. Those who feel totally lost, out of control and desperately clinging to any opportunity to keep their family happy.
And it doesn’t mean you are weak.
Usually, it signifies that you feel guilty and as a result, associate control with harshness.
Maybe you don’t want to be mean, don’t want to cause a scene or you think that your child is justified in treating you like his servant.
You tell yourself:
- He didn’t take a nap
- He’s been sick
- I’ve been working too long hours
- He’s unhappy with something at school.
- You and your husband have been fighting too much.
- His friends have been excluding him lately.
- We’ve had a job change/ change in diet/ too much going on/ too little going on…
I need you to know one cold, hard truth.
Regardless of everything else happening in your life, your kids are NEVER justified in treating you poorly.
How do you change the habit?
If this has been going on for a while, I need to drop a bomb.
You’re dealing with a spoiled child.
He’s been used to getting his way for so long that any change of plans causes a massive, full-scale eruption.
He’s inflexible. Unreasonable. He dictates your entire life.
And… he’s not happy.
In fact, the more you try to cater to his whims and “make” him happy, the less happy he will become.
Kids need discipline.
But discipline isn’t about yelling or spanking. On the contrary, discipline is all about teaching. At it’s core, its setting expectations and enforcing consequences if those expectation aren’t met.
Children need a set of behaviors that will guide them in their future relationships. Effective discipline helps kids develop self-control, empathy for others, and responsibility for their actions.
But, it is far from easy. Especially if you are stuck in this pattern of always giving your kids what they want.
Before we go any further, let’s get a few things straight:
- Your kids will love and respect you when you discipline.
- There will be conflict and that’s OK.
- You might even have a few scenes at the mall. That’s OK too. No respectable parent will judge you – they will empathize.
Time to unspoil your kids
This is going to be tough. It might be easier training for a marathon than unspoiling your kids.
(Marathon training will be shorter, less emotionally intense and you’ll see progress right away)
With your kids, you’ll be playing the long game.
Here’s what you’re going to do:
Make your first response…
Kids know when we are eager to please, too stressed to think through a situation clearly or simply have too many things to do.
They will ask and ask and ask.
My first inclination used to be to say “Yes” when my kids asked me a question while distracted. I think my mind wanted the decision to disappear.
Seconds later, I’d see my kids doing somersaults off the couch and yell at them, stunned: “What are you doing?!?”
“But, you said yes”
Oh crap. I did.
On the other hand, my husband’s automatic first response is No. So, I tried it.
At first, I stumbled a lot.
(Me typing on the computer and one of my kids comes up behind me)
“Mom, can we have some ice cream?”
(still typing, trying to finish a sentence)
“MOOOMMM, can we have ice cream?”
I tried to concentrate. “Yep… wait a minute…. NO”
“Awwww… why not?”
“Because I’m a mean mommy who never gives you anything”
“Awwwwwww. No, you’re not”
“Well, that’s sweet”
“Now can we have ice cream?”
Sure, they will be disappointed. But the feeling you get from being in control and the pressure that lifts from not being compelled to say “Yes” all the time is well worth it.
I’m not saying that you have to say No to everything. But when you make NO your first instinct when you’re stressed, it gives you more decision time and your kids start to learn the appropriate time to ask you questions.
Deal with behavior immediately
Regardless of tiredness, hunger or whatever else may be going on, if my kids show me that they can’t control their emotions in public, I take them out of the the situation.
This is easier said than done. Because many times, these outbursts happen at the most inconvenient of times.
Family vacation where everyone should be having fun? Massive tantrum while waiting for “Its a Small World.”
Brother’s birthday party where we’re supposed to celebrate him? Massive sulkfest.
Looking at both of these situations, they cause a huge amount of stress for the kid so it’s reasonable they misbehave.
But, even if it’s reasonable, its not OK.
While it may seem that we’re ruining the mood for calling this behavior out, we’re actually extending it. Because once you set the expectations, 7 times out of 10, kids reform their ways.
Here’s how you can react when:
- Your child is defiant
- Your grade schooler is having a tantrum
- And practical positive discipline strategies you can use to rectify the situation.
By not allowing your child to treat you poorly, you set her up for success in her future relationships as well as greater capacity for self-discipline and empathy.
Start simple by making NO your first response when you’re distracted or busy and dealing with any behavior when it occurs.
You got this.