How To Behave So Your Children Will, Too, Part I
Whenever I am asked if my children have ever done something I was unprepared to handle, I tell this story. Anthony was almost 3 years old when my spouse became pregnant. We knew it was vital to prepare him for the arrival of a new baby. We wanted to avoid the dreaded effects of sibling rivalry. We read the Berenstain Bears New Baby book a dozen times. We did everything imaginable to make him feel that our new baby was also going to be his new baby. As mom's tummy began to grow, Anthony kept a little doll tucked beneath the front of his T-shirt.
Leah's birth fascinated Anthony. He was so excited. Nearly everyone who brought a present for Leah brought one for him. It was like Christmas in May. He loved his new sister, even though he noticed that she did not have any teeth. Everything was going just as we had planned.
On Leah's sixth day home, it happened. Anthony hopped out of the bathtub. His rosy skin smelled like soap and baby powder. He asked if he could have an apple. I said sure. He reappeared a few moments later. He placed one hand on the back of my chair while holding the apple in the other.
"Dad, I think I'm in trouble."
"What for?" I asked.
"Well, when I was getting my apple, I accidentally 'peed' in the refrigerator."
"You're right," I said. "You are in trouble."
What We Want
My children create many challenging situations. Occasionally, I am amused. Often, I feel frustrated and discouraged. Sometimes, I feel embarrassed and guilty. Our children are a measure of our success and worthiness. We judge ourselves by their success and achievements. We compare ourselves to other parents. We compare our children to other children. Have you ever watched people buy apples? We rotate each apple looking for a blemish. We hold it up to the light, examining the reflection. We squeeze each one for firmness. We study each competitor looking for the perfect apple.
Parents want perfect apples. We want successful children. We want them to be happy and well adjusted. We want them to feel good about themselves. We want children who are loving and respectful of others. We want them to be well behaved and self-motivated. We want them to be independent -- not still living with us when they are thirty. All parents have the same goads and aspirations.
What We Have
Most parents confront the same behavior problems. We become annoyed repeating everything three times. We spend too much time arguing. We become drained from the nagging and whining and manipulating and quarreling. We become exhausted from shouting and threatening. At times, it seems that all we do is punish. We feel guilty for getting angry, but it appears to be the only way to get results. We blame ourselves and feel ineffective for not knowing what to do. There are times when we dislike our children because their misbehavior makes us feel so inadequate and miserable.
Raising well-behaved children is not easy. Many parents fail. Not because they are inadequate. Not because they lack love for their children. Not because they want something less than the best for their children. Unsuccessful parents are inconsistent. They procrastinate. They give warnings but do not follow through. They say things they do not mean. They lack patience. They punish in anger. Unsuccessful parents attend to the negative rather than the positive. They criticize too much. Parents who have discipline problems do not plan. They do not realize that they can be part of the problem. Parents are part of the problem because of their patterns of reaction.
Parents usually react in one of two ways. Sometimes parents react passively. They give in to misbehavior because they do not feel like confronting the problem, at least not right now. You will learn why giving in makes misbehavior worse. Sometimes parents react with anger. You will also learn how reacting with anger makes misbehavior worse.
The way you react to your children's misbehavior affects future misbehavior. A certain amount of misbehavior is normal. My guess is that young children misbehave about 5 percent of the time. (Some days it feels like 50 percent!) Knowing how to react to this 5 percent is crucial. Reacting correctly and consistently can reduce misbehavior from 5 percent to less than 2 percent. Reacting incorrectly can increase misbehavior to 10 percent or more.
Knowing how to react is essential. Knowing how to prevent discipline problems is more important. You can escape many predicaments by setting up a few guidelines in advance. Successful parents believe in prevention and planning. They are more proactive than reactive. You will learn several strategies to help you be more proactive.
What We Need
What factors contribute to successful parenting? Successful parents and their children are partners in discipline. Successful parents know that discipline is a teaching process. Discipline is not just punishment. Successful parents understand that their behavior and emotions affect their children's behavior and emotions. Successful parents model responsibility. They focus their attention and energy on the positive aspects of their children's behavior. Successful parents emphasize cooperation, not control. Successful parents teach their children to think for themselves. They teach children self-control. Successful parents build self-esteem. They know that healthy self-esteem is the main ingredient children need to develop self-confidence and resiliency.
Successful parents learn from their children. They develop reaction patterns that reduce misbehavior. Successful parents are consistent. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They follow through. Successful parents stay calm when their button is being pushed. They use punishments that teach, not get even. Successful parents connect special activities with good behavior.
Successful parents anticipate problems. They have a game plan. They have proactive strategies for managing tantrums, disobedience, fighting, arguments and power struggles. Successful parents have plans that teach the value of completing chores, earning allowances, and doing homework. Successful parents do not let misbehavior keep them from enjoying their children. Successful parents are strict but positive. They are serious about the importance of proper conduct, but they have a childlike sense of humor whenever it is needed. Successful parents know how to appreciate their children, even when they are misbehaving. Most importantly, successful parents are open to change.