by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
I am tired of screaming at my children. It seems they don’t even hear me any more. What can I do?
There is a lot that you can do to train your children to respond to you. First you must stop screaming. Screaming diminishes your authority. When you are out of control, you can’t expect your child to be in control. Consider a police officer. Let’s suppose you are driving down the street a little too fast and you notice those red and blue lights in your rearview mirror. You pull over to the side of the road and wait patiently and nervously while the officer walks up to your window. He is very unlikely to beat on your car and scream in your face, asking the question, “WHY DO YOU DRIVE SO FAST?” Instead, he is likely to calmly walk up to your window and ask to see your driver’s license. And, you will likely produce that piece of plastic with your mug shot on it, hoping that he is going to give you a warning, rather than a ticket.
Even if he scolds you at that point, you are likely to conclude your remarks with “sir,” even if you don’t usually use the word. My point is this, you will respond to the request of the officer because he is in control of the situation.
A generation ago, Lee and Marlene Canter developed a model of discipline in the classroom. It was called Assertive Discipline and was so successful in the classroom that they expanded its use to the home setting. In fact, they wrote a book for parents called Assertive Discipline for Parents. Unfortunately, the book is now out of print, but is available online from used bookstores. The principles are simple, and effective.
After you stop screaming, dismiss the thought that there are any acceptable reasons for misbehavior. This changes your frame of reference and you will begin to think in terms of correcting bad behavior rather than living with it. Life with your children does not have to be a battleground.
Clearly define your expectations. This is absolutely essential. If you are making up rules as you go, or changing rules depending on your mood, you cannot expect your child to guess what your rule is at the moment. In fact, your child is likely to develop what Martin Seligman termed Learned Helplessness. When rules are unclear, your child is likely to comply grudgingly, or not hear you at all. To avoid this, be very clear. If your child is old enough, have him or her write the rules and put them on the wall. If he is not old enough to write, explain your expectations very clearly and stick with them.
Clearly define consequences for violating expectations. As with rules, consequences should not be developed as you go along. Decide ahead of time what the consequences will be for violating your expectations, and communicate them very clearly. Make certain that the consequences fit the violation. Never threaten to harm your child, or make a consequence that you could not follow through with later.
Always follow through. This is so important. If you establish rules and consequences and don’t follow through, you would have been better to have never addressed the issue. As a parent, you may be tired and don’t want to get up to follow through with a consequence, or maybe the unacceptable behavior is “cute.” To not follow through defeats the whole program of discipline. If you are too lazy to get out of your chair and take corrective action, you will probably resort to screaming at your child and you will be back where you began.
Catch them being good and reward them. By doing this, discipline will become self-discipline. Behaviorists have taught us that a child should not be rewarded every time he or she does the right thing. Instead, a variable rate or interval is more likely to result in the desired behavior becoming fixed. To start with you may need to reward or compliment your child for each good behavior, but then move to less frequent rewards. In this way, your child will own the behavior, rather than simply complying with your expectation.
Put these simple steps into action, and you will see change in your child’s behavior. You will be happier, and your child will be happier. Well-disciplined children are much more fun to be around. And well-disciplined children enjoy their parents more too.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]