In the typical 21st century American household, children are given free access to most (if not all) of their favorite items. They can freely play with their toys, run around the backyard, gather their own snacks, turn on the TV, get their own drinks, and maintain control of their own electronic devices. As soon as the children misbehave, parents run into the room and start taking away the items. In other words, we want our kids to have everything, but only on our terms.
This system of discipline is harmful and ineffective for several reasons…
1. It focuses is on what the child does wrong instead of what the child does well.
2. During the process of taking the item away, the child has as much power as the parent.
3. The child begins to behave out of fear of what he/she will lose instead of truly wanting to the right thing.
“They always take everything away from me,” is our wise kid statement of the month. As a parent, you may be thinking, “I have to take everything away from my children to get them to behave.” Would you believe me if I told you that there is a much easier, more effective way to get your children to complete their chores, eat their vegetables, and take their baths?
All you have to do is take control of the things you actually can control. Instead of “clean your room or I will take away your iPad,” try “clean your room and you can have 30 minutes on your iPad.” The difference I am suggesting is a simple change in semantics, but a change in semantics will make all the difference.
Let’s look at it another way. Taking away the items you have given your children is equivalent to a company paying their employees before work and then collecting a portion of the pay every time an employee accidentally or intentionally does something wrong. I am pretty confident that no one would choose to work for that company! So why do we choose this as our primary way to parent?
We can all agree that most children are NOT intrinsically (internally) motivated. Children are not born with a desire to be constantly obedient and positive. Children are extrinsically (externally) motivated and need to be rewarded when they do hard things. Research has repeatedly shown that this “If, Then” style of parenting is the most effective way to change behavior.
1. It focuses on teaching, shaping, and rewarding what you want to see in your children. For example, if your children have to earn media time instead of being entitled to it, it creates a natural setting to practice doing the right thing (compliance, chores, sharing, taking turns, etc).
2. It allows the parent to be proactive instead of reactive. Threats of loss often lead to tantrums or uncontrollable situations. “If, Then” allows the child to see that they have some control in the situation, which encourages logical thinking, and wise decision making.
3. When this approach is done well, children are rewarded for every attempt they make to “do the right thing”. This naturally develops self-compassion, which is one of the most important requirements for mental health. Self-compassion is one’s ability to accurately see their own strengths/weaknesses. People who are self-compassionate are able to focus on where they need to improve, make goals to do so, and reward themselves for their efforts.