No Small Consequence: Our Children’s Future

Years ago, it was common practice for parents to physically reprimand their children when they “misbehaved.” Spanking, hitting and far worse occured with regularity, and seemed to be the norm.

Although there is still a percentage of the world that hits their kids (which I don’t agree with), there is an increasing percentage of parents who do not discipline their kids at all (which I do not agree with). 

So if we want to help our children learn, but we don’t want to use violence to “teach them,” what’s a dad to do? What other ways of discipline are there?

Yelling? Nope. Been there, done that. It sucked…
Click here for research and details as to why yelling at our kids is an inferior form of discipline. As a matter of fact, it can permenantly damage their brains!

What we can do is offer consequences. Large or small, consequences can be handed out with the calmest of voices, without any physical abuse. I’ve found that as long as I follow through with whatever consequence I offer, it is incredibly effective. It also helps my kids learn to be responsible for their actions.

If we don’t teach our kids to act in acceptable ways through some type of discipline, what kind of adults will they grow up to be? And if we spank or beat the crap out of them, well, what are we really teaching them?

I see too many parents letting their kids do whatever the hell they want. The kids run the show. Until recently, I often found myself in the role of the typical pushover dad   making idle threats about consequences I never followed through on. Saying things like, “stop it… stop it or there’s no more TV for the rest of the day… I said stop it or there’s no more TV!” Of course, I never turned off the television and the behavior I was trying to stop continued until I would yell.

Not how I wanted to handle things.

Frustrated, I wrote two posts: How to Retrain t he Reactive Brain, Part 1 & Part 2, and in the process discovered that offering & following through on consequences seemed like the most effective, least harmful form of discipline for me to practice.

Last week my wife and I received a letter from my son Max’s (4.5 years old) teachers. He’s been acting out in preschool, yelling at them when they tell him to come to circle time. Max has also taken to raising his voice at us at home.

We do not allow him to raise his voice at us. We use consequences, coupled with discussion (when things calm down), to help him modify his behavior. Of course, yelling at his teachers is unacceptable too, so we let him know there will (and have already been) consequences for this negative behavior.

But it’s a fine line, because I want to procure Max’s independence. I want him to grow up believing in himself, that his opinion matters. Because it does. On the other hand, he needs to learn that yelling is NOT the way to express himself.

But I can’t put it all on Max. I am partially (possibly to a large degree) to blame for his behavior. Although I am constantly working on not yelling (see Stop Yelling Daddy! Part 1 & Part 2), both my boys have seen and heard me do yell. Like it or not, I’ve set a poor example.

We need to treat our kids with respect if we’d like them to be respectful people. We need to listen to them if we expect them to learn how to listen. We need to guide them in ways that do not damage them or riddle them with baggage that they may wind up carrying around through adulthood.

We’ve got to walk a tightrope, giving them space to shape themselves while shaping their space so it’s a positive environment.

And remember, you are not alone…

How to Retrain the Reactive Brain, Part 2

In part one of this series, I wrote about how being yelled at as a boy has affected how my brain processes information  causing me to react a certain way during stressful situations with my own kids. 

In short, sometimes I yell. 

Since being yelled at physically damages kids brains (see Stop Yelling Daddy, Part 2), my goal has been to find more productive, less damaging alternatives to deal with my boys when one (or both) of them refuses to listen, has a tantrum, starts bossing me around, or is exhibiting some other type of undesirable behavior.

But my brain is hardwired to react a certain way (in part because I was yelled at as a kid), so it has not been easy.

My goal is to retrain my brain  to turn it off autopilot. Here’s an update about what I’ve been doing, and discovering, the past two weeks…

(1) Breathing.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but when the kids start acting out I forget to breathe. I have found this is the catalyst to losing my cool. I have had to force myself to take a moment and breathe before I react. I’ve been taking a step back from the culprit, and turning slightly away. This gives me a moment to think.

(2) Use Consequences Instead of Yelling.
This has been a major breakthrough for me. I do feel that sometimes I’m lacking compassion as I offer up a consequence when the kids are not listening. I do not like the feeling of being an authoritarian, but how else can I teach the boys when they’re acting out? Consequences certainly feel (and work) better than yelling. And hitting is just out of the question.

There needs to be some type of negative consequence.

Following through has been the key. I saw a positive change in Max, 4, right away. His refusing to go to bed disappeared once he realized I was serious about no Speed Racer cartoons the next day. Literally overnight, he became more cooperative. 

Unfortunately my son Joss, 2, seems unfazed by any of this. Luckily he does respond to redirection. 

Positive consequences.
The flip side of this is that there needs to be “positive consequences” when the boys do listen, when they are being good kids. Whether we simply thank them, hug them, give them a special surprise like their favorite dinner or a new toy  acknowledging the positive is essential.

The idea is not to make the boys feel bad about themselves. The idea is to help them learn.

What worries me is that my sons are stopping an unwanted behavior because of the repercussions, not because they understand why the behavior is undesirable. Yes, they’re learning to be more accountable for their actions. But I prefer that they also learn WHY they are being punished  I want to go beyond the consequence.

They need to learn that the consequence is a result of a behavior that was negative. They also need to understand why the behavior is considered negative to begin with.

Often, once things settle down we have a brief discussion to help them understand. When we talk, I try to be calm, clear and compassionate.

Never call your child “bad.”
I try very hard not to direct the word “bad” towards my boys. When I talk to them, they need to know bad behavior does not make them bad. The behavior itself is what is bad, not them. We used to call Joss a “bad boy,” when he misbehaved until we realized this was attaching the word “bad” to him instead of what he was doing. 

Is he bad? Or is his behavior bad?

This needs to be clear to all involved, otherwise we’re perpetuating a poor self image, which will produce more “bad” behavior. We want to help our kids be true to themselves, not disable them with negative baggage.

(3) Letting go of the need for control.
It is sometimes difficult for me to separate my need to control from my need to be a compassionate father & teacher. Sometimes, my kids just need to be heard. Sometimes I need to let them have a minute to be upset. Emotions are part of life and I need to respect that.

If they’re out of control, a consequence may be the short-term answer to make them stop. But I need to do a better job in being understanding and compassionate BEFORE things get out of control.

And remember, you are not alone…

Related links:
Stop Yelling Daddy, Part 1
Stop Yelling Daddy, Part 2
An Interview with Mark Brady, Part 1
An Interview with Mark Brady, Part 2
An Interview with Mark Brady, Part 3


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Stop Yelling Daddy!

No matter how hard I try, no matter how mindful I attempt to be I sometimes find myself yelling at one or both of my kids. It never lasts very long and it’s always after an extended amount of crying, screaming, food throwing or obsessive-compulsive behavior that rivals Mr. Monk’s (from the USA TV show).

It seems that I can not get through a weekend without yelling about something. And this weekend was no exception.

It was our 11-year anniversary. The babysitter cancelled on us, so instead of a romantic adult dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, we settled for a family outing at Quaker Steak & Lube. As the name suggests, this is not your ordinary “anniversary dinner.” At least not for us.

Max, 4, began a tirade of wanting more macaroni and cheese WAY before he was done eating what he had in front of him. Relentless, he continued to repeat his desire for more. I tried many ways of reasoning with him to stop. Since his brother Joss, almost 2, was flinging his mac & cheese off his plate, I deftly gave some to Max who ate it and stopped complaining. OK, that wasn’t so hard.

Now Joss starts screaming. Not because I gave his brother some of his food, but because he’s done. He’s ready to go. NOW. My wife has barely eaten & my beer is far from finished. We do our best to eat what we can. I realize this situation is a great way to help people lose weight. Under this type of stress, one simply does not have an appetite!

On the way to the car…

Everything has calmed down. I’ve managed to hold it together until I try to put Joss in the car. He grabs onto the metal rods holding up the passenger side headrest. He clutches them with the will and the strength of a gorilla who’s really hungry for the very last banana (or the most desirable mate).

Now he’s just trying to tell me (in his 2 year old way), “hey dad, listen, sorry but I’m not ready to get in my car seat yet. Maybe you could give me a minute…” But I’m not hearing him. I just want him to sit in the car seat!

I finally pry his fingers off the headrest and get him in the seat. He’s screaming and fighting me and then he kicks me in the face (not intentional)!

That was it. I saw red. I lost it. I started screaming at the top of my lungs in the middle of the Quaker Steak & Lube parking lot about how he was “being a bad boy. BAD BOY! Stop it! Stop it now!”

Another weekend tainted. Another chance at setting a good example lost. It doesn’t matter (at least not at that moment) that I set hundreds of good examples for my boys every week. This is simply not a habit I am proud of, it’s not who I want to be. My father yelled alot when I was a kid (big surprise there), and now I am teaching my kids the same thing. And I can’t seem to stop.

The whole incident may have lasted 20 seconds, but three days later I am still ashamed & incredibly disappointed with myself. It’s not that my son’s behavior was acceptable. It wasn’t. But he’s not even two.

The problem is that my behavior is unacceptable at any age.

I’ve given this much thought, because I realize “trying harder” to stay calm is not the answer. It won’t work unless I address the underlying factors that are causing me to be so volatile. Joss’ behavior was only the catalyst.

The real problem is my frustration. I’m tired & overwhelmed. My wife has diabetes and gallbladder problems, and I’m scared of losing her. I miss my boys all day while I’m at work. And although I am very happy to have a good job, it is quite often VERY FRUSTRATING! We’re 800 miles from everyone we know, everyone we can depend on for help. We are alone out here in Wisconsin. Money always seems to be an issue, and there’s a ton of stuff to do in order to maintain our home. And the pizza sucks!

Hey, I know most (if not all) parents have this same amount of stress. I’m not saying my case is special. But I’m having trouble finding a solution.

If anybody has any suggestions, please feel free to share them.

And remember, you are not alone…

Related posts:
Stop Yelling Daddy! (Part 2)

How to Retrain the Reactive Brain, Part 1

How to Retrain the Reactive Brain, Part 2

An Interview with Mark Brady: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Equal Rights for Kids. Part 2: Don’t Hit!

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