Your son walks in with muddy shoes. You say, “Please take your shoes off by the door!”
You ask again.
He continues to walk through the room getting mud everywhere.
Feeling angry and frantic, you search for some leverage, something to get him to respond to your request.
Spying his Halloween candy on the table you shout, “If you don’t take off your shoes, I’m taking all your candy and throwing it away!”
Desperate Times Call For…A Cool Head
When our kids don’t follow our directions, talk back or ignore us, we have an emotional response such as anger, fear, worry, irritation or desperation.
Unfortunately, being in a heightened emotional state means that we’re not using the rational, thinking part of our brain.
Consequences given when we are in a heightened emotional state sound like: “No more TV!” or “You’re not going to McDonalds ever again!”
They are extreme, rarely enforceable and focus more on punishment rather than teaching.
Instead of giving a consequence when you are emotionally charged, give yourself time to cool down. Not only will your consequences be more effective, you may find that you don’t need “consequences” at all!
3 Things to Do Before Giving a Consequence
1. Breathe: Taking a deep breath can get your brain out of the emotional state and back to the rational one. Be aware of your blood pressure rising, your muscles tightening or your emotions becoming triggered. These are your cues to take some deep breaths!
2. Respond with Empathy: Let your children know that you understand their point of view by speaking empathetically. (Bonus points for using this “get low” strategy). Hearing their point of view doesn’t mean that you have to change yours, it simply means that you are meeting them where they’re at – in their disappointment, frustration or fear.
3. Say, “I need to calm down before we talk about this”: If your child continues to argue or if you are still feeling angry, take a break. There is no need to feel pressure to create a consequence in the moment. We do not want our kids to obey us out of fear of punishment. Model good decision-making by refraining from making big decisions until your body and brain are calm.
Here’s an Example
You see your child come in with muddy shoes. You encourage him to remove his shoes, but he refuses.
You take a DEEP BREATH. And respond empathetically, “You really don’t want to take off your shoes, huh?” or “I bet you don’t even realize your shoes are so muddy!” or playfully, “Come here little mud-monster! Let’s get those muddy shoes back to the rug.”
He may respond with, “Oh yeah, just a second.” And proceed to take them off. Problem solved.
He may ignore or start to argue with you. You can calmly state, “Muddy shoes belong on the rug.”
If you can’t keep your cool, it’s fine to say, “Your shoes are making the floor muddy. It will need to be cleaned, but I need to calm down before we talk about it.”
Later, when everyone’s calm, you can work on the floor together. You can also brainstorm about muddy shoes – where to take them off, how to make sure they’re clean before coming in the house, etc.
What’s Wrong With Consequences?
Consequences are part of life.
Unfortunately, many parents are so focused on time-outs, grounding and taking things away that they miss out on teaching and skill building opportunities with their children. Not to mention many consequences focus on punishment, which can cause a rift in the parent/child relationship.
Think about the situation above. Taking away the Halloween candy may be enough to make your child stop and take off their shoes.
You can demand that your child cleans up the floor, but chances are he will be so mad about losing his candy that he will not willingly help. (In fact, your child may be in meltdown or “you’re the meanest mom in the world” mode.)
Feeling even more angry, you may find yourself stuck. Yelling isn’t working. You already took away the candy, what next? Grounding him for a week?
Plus, you still have a muddy floor. Now what?
So, What Are Your Options?
If you are feeling trapped by trying to find a consequence for every one of your child’s infractions, I encourage you to sign up for my mailing list. In addition to receiving new blog posts via email, you will receive a free resource “25 Alternatives to Time-Outs, Grounding & Taking Things Away” as well as a visual reminder of these alternatives.
This will be a starting point as you begin to search for other ways to teach and guide your children.
If you need additional help as you put new strategies in place, Parent Coaching may be a good fit for you. We will work together via phone or skype, to create a positive plan to help you be successful, confident and calm as you parent. If you would like to learn more, please contact me today!