Confession: I'm the queen of making threats to my three kids when they don't behave, then never following through. "If you do that one more time . . . " But there's always another chance. I'll warn them, "No TV" or "No friends over" or "You're going to bed early!" I don't enforce any of it. Since I rarely carry out a punishment, their little minds are thinking, "Mom's never going to take away my toys, so why should I stop fighting with my sister?" Sigh. After a particularly bad weekend of whining, bickering, and talking back, I realized my empty threats have got to stop, or else the undesirable behavior never will.
For one whole week, I vowed to follow through on consequences. If I said to my 5-year-old, "Stop taunting your sister or I'm taking away your manatee stuffed animal," I was going to do it. Of course, radically changing my discipline style is a tall order. Especially since the truth is, I struggle with making my kids face repercussions for their actions because I hate seeing them upset or unhappy. But my happiness is important, too, and I can't take one more day of their constant squabbles without losing my mind. I was determined to start getting serious about discipline, and this is what happened when I did.
- Day 1 — Late in the afternoon, my 5-year-old was, quite simply, losing her sh*t. She was probably exhausted from school, but no matter how calmly I attempted to speak with her, she couldn't regain control of herself. I told her she'd have to go to her room if it didn't stop, and this time, I actually sent her in there. Amazingly, she calmed down after several minutes and came out ready to try again. I felt great about following through with a punishment, and she clearly benefited from time alone. While this moment felt like I was winning, it was a bit premature to start congratulating myself on mastering discipline just yet.
Day 2 — It was my 8-year-old's turn to get a bit too rowdy. She wasn't playing nicely with her sisters, nor was she being particularly nice to me. I told her she could go to bed early if her attitude didn't shape up. Then, hours later at bedtime, I totally forgot and put her to bed at the same time as her siblings. File this under parenting fails.
Day 3 — No one told me this was a national day of bickering, but my children seemed to know! I grew tired of asking them to stop fighting over every little thing and threatened to tell their dad, who was on a business trip. The threat was enough; their behavior improved, albeit temporarily. I did end up informing my husband that the kids were on my last nerve though, so I could feel good about the day's follow through.
Day 4 — More fighting over what to play, whose turn it was, and who looked at whom with a "mean face." Ugh! The girls had planned to have a sleepover in one of their rooms, and I told them that was so not happening unless they knocked it the heck off. The good news is that the threat alone seemed to curb the behavior for the rest of the night.
Day 5 — Today's scandalous behavior: the little one pushed the middle one, then denied it. I told her, "If you're lying about pushing your sister, I'll call a babysitter, and you can't go out on the boat with us this afternoon." She fessed up quickly.
Day 6 — Whining plus complaining equaled me warning another early bedtime. And I warned the kids 10 times. Honestly, I was enjoying watching a football game with my husband from the comfort of our couch and didn't feel like getting up to enforce lights out. I know, I suck. But the upside happened the next day, when I warned my youngest daughter about whining yet again, and without me having to ask, she sent herself to her room. "Maybe this was working after all," I thought.
Day 7 — I asked my kids to clean up the playroom and get ready for swim practice at least three times, and no one even moved. "I'm canceling Christmas if you don't listen to me!" I sputtered angrily and then felt guilty. Although the kids quickly got up and got busy putting away their puzzles and crayons, I knew immediately I'd gone too big with my threat.
Here's what I learned after the week: you can't necessarily change your parenting style in a week, or at least I can't. If I'm keeping it real, I wasn't as consistent with carrying out consequences as I'd hoped. I guess old habits die hard. But I realized what I really need to work on is the punishment I'm threatening for undesirable behavior. Saying I'm going to cancel Christmas doesn't fit the "crime" of the kids not listening, and they know I won't actually do something that drastic. If I use realistic consequences, like taking away a stuffed animal or sending a child to their room, I can more easily show the kids that I mean business.
Bottom line: I still want to be better about disciplining my children. I hope to do my best to follow through with my warnings when the girls are giving me grief beyond this week. Just maybe my efforts will inspire better behavior more often.