Stop Punishing Your Kids

by Lorraine Esposito on February 2, 2013

in Peacemaker Parent

“I’m going to stop punishing my children by saying, ‘Never mind I’ll do it myself.’” Erma Bombeck

Erma Bombeck’s newspaper column, At Wits End, was famous for poking fun at the lives of suburban housewives. Her humor was wildly popular because it was just so darn true! I used her funny words in Chapter 3― Set Your Sights, to poke fun at the pointless practice parents have of hinting at their kids. Kids just don’t get hints so watch out; hinting can put you on a slippery slope to martyrdom. 

Fishing for Frustration

Most of us have tried hinting and know that it rarely works on adults, and works even less with kids.  Sure, sometimes it’s easier to just do things yourself; it’s the choice between picking up dirty clothes vs. suffering another conversation about responsibility and appreciation as you remind your kids—again—for the umpteenth time—to do it themselves.  It’s fine to choose doing the work yourself sometimes; I do it, too.  The rub comes if you cast out hints hoping to hook appreciation.  Mostly all you hook is more frustration

So what do you do?  You’ve probably tried direct communication, “I picked up your clothes again today. Please make sure you put them away from now on.”  Clearly stating what you did and what you expect in the future can work . . . but what if it doesn’t? 

Still Frustrated

He keeps leaving clothes on the floor even after you’ve tried all the “correct” responses.  Do you think you’ll get a better response by hinting and shaming? Well, maybe―but not for long. More than likely he’ll sense a new position of power. He’ll recognize his ability to make YOU feel bad and all that it costs him is listening to a few of your insults. Not a bad trade for a kid and actually a great reason NOT to do what you want. Oh, and he’ll surely find other ways to leverage his power, because you’re probably using the same hinting-shaming technique to get him to make his bed, put toys away, eat breakfast, etc.

My Solution:  One More Time

Step 1:  Directly communicate from a position of personal responsibility and power.

“Seeing your clothes on the floor bothers me, so I picked them up again for you today.”

Step 2:  Make sure your child has the skills and resources needed to accomplish the task.

“What would make it easier for you to do?”

Step 3:  Establish a period of time for practicing responsibility for the task.

“I’ll help you for another week so that you have time to practice getting it done on your own.”

Step 4:  Set boundaries and clarify natural consequences.

“Since I don’t want to do it anymore after that, anything left on the floor goes into a holding bin for a month.  That way I don’t have to pick anything up twice for at least a month.”

Step 5:  Follow through without deviation.

“After the month, I’ll return the things you want and we’ll donate the rest.”

Personal Power

I was successful with this plan, but it’s only one possible solution. The point of any solution you eventually choose is to communicate from a place of judgment-free support and personal power. The hinting-shaming way will surely backfire and it won’t teach him how to make good choices as an adult.

“I’m going to stop punishing my children by saying, ‘Never mind I’ll do it myself.’”  Erma Bombeck


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