Have you ever told your wife something unpleasant that you did? The reaction is typically something like, “You did what? Why the heck would you do that? You learn at that moment that you probably shouldn’t tell her next time something like that happens if you don’t want to deal with that wrath again.
This is the same thing with children. They learn from a very young age that when they share something they did wrong or mistake they made, mom and dad are going to be upset. In this video, we learn how our reactions shape our children’s behavior. If we want to stay connected to our children, how should we handle these kinds of situations?
One major job as a parent is to teach. If you think of yourself as a coach in your child’s life, you may approach parenting a little differently. As a coach, we want to help our child learn the ways of the world. Unfortunately we sometimes teach them things without realizing what we are doing. For an example: Lying. All young kids will explore lying to their parents. It’s normal child behavior to test these things. What we don’t often realize is that we are teaching them to lie based on our reactions.
Here is a scenario:
After finding candy wrappers in their room, you approach your child with the question: “Did you take candy from the drawer when you weren’t suppose to?”
The child’s response, “Yes, but my friend told me to do it”.
The typical dad reply, “Really? I don’t care who told you to. You know you are not allowed to have any without permission. Go to your room. You are not having a sleepover this weekend.”
So what did the child just learn? Telling the truth just got me in trouble. So I’m not going to do that again. Also, how did the punishment relate to the crime at all? What does a sleepover have to do with taking candy?
This is one way children learn to lie. They quickly figure out that if they tell the truth, they get in trouble. So they think they are avoiding getting in trouble by lying. Guess what? They will only learn to be better lyers. I like using use the motto, “If you tell the truth, you won’t get in trouble.” If your child comes clean and is honest, the way to respond is to say “Thank you for being honest. I really appreciate it. You know you are not supposed to do that. What are the rules? How would you have done that differently? Your teaching them there are rules about the candy and that if they want it, they were supposed to ask. Keep ind mind, these types of skills don’t happen overnight. Over time and starting young, you develop strong communication between you and your child. You build trust as well.
While I’m not in support on punishment or rewards, if you feel the need to punish them, it should be related. Maybe they have to do extra work around the house to pay for the candy they took? Random punishment is waste of your time and theirs.
Here is another scenario: Child brings home a report card with some grades you don’t think are very good. A typical response is that they either get grounded, get something taken away, whatever. Keep this in mind: The grades are for them, not you. If your child is not doing well in school, (and we are talking about grades school children), they either have learning challenges or they need to be parented differently. Either way, you need to get involved with support. Maybe you need to spend more time with them, talk with their teacher, and figure out what is going on. Punishing them for bad grades is not going to encourage them. Studies have proven it doesn’t work. They need to understand that learning in school is for them, not you. And that they are totally capable of learning and achieving. Positive re-inforcement and encouragement will go a lot further than punishment.
The last example: your child gets in trouble at school. Maybe they were talking in class or something happened on the playground. Either way, sometimes you have to let natural consequences happen. If they get detention or some other punishment from school, that’s the punishment. Punishing them at home as well isn’t going to help. Instead you want to understand why it’ happened and help them come up with a way to handle it better next time. If they know they are getting punished at home as well, they are going to be more likely to lie and not tell you the truth about what happened. How does any learning come from that? Provide support on how the situation can be avoided next time. That’s your role.
In all of the scenarios I discussed, not punishing your child doesn’t mean you agree with what they did or that you are endorsing it. We all make mistakes. It’s important as their coach to teach them how to handle mistakes and how to avoid them the next time. We want our kids to be honest, morally sound, and contributing members of society. Remember, how you react helps shape their behavior.