Don’t lie

As a parent, I know one of the worst things is unwanted parenting advice. As such, it’s generally a topic of conversation I avoid like the plague — even in my blog when it’s directed at nobody in particular.

But this has been bugging me, so just this once I will offer my opinion on something: You shouldn’t lie to your kids. By all means be selective with what you explain to them, simplify concepts, tell them you’ll explain something later/when they’re older, but don’t lie. They’re smart, they’ll figure it out one day.

And especially, don’t lie when disciplining them. Whatever you do, don’t threaten them with something you’re not prepared to follow-through on. If you do, they’ll soon know exactly how to play you, to get what they want, and how to behave the way they want with impunity.

Every so often, I’ll see someone breaking this rule. Example: last week on a train, a mum was telling her young son not to run around the carriage. The kid obviously wanted to know why. She could have just said she wanted to keep an eye on him, or whatever, but she made up some lame excuse which patently wasn’t true. (I wish I could remember precisely what it was now). The kid obviously picked up that, and queried it. I didn’t hear it all, but an argument ensued, at some point she got fed-up with the backchat and threatened to smack him.

Smacking, of course, is severely out of fashion in many western countries. I don’t know how many people do it nowadays, but I’ve never done it. Apart from the fact that I consider it to be heading down the slippery slope of violence towards your children, I simply don’t think it works. Time-out has always been my preferred option, at least at home. Positive re-inforcement (aka bribes) and their withdrawal is also a good one.

Would this mother smack her kid publically on a train, probably leading to yet more noise?

No. She didn’t do it. The kid carried on playing up. I bet he does that all the time. Of course I’m not saying she should have smacked him; I’m saying she never should have threatened it in the first place.

A guy I used to work with said a couple he knew always had problems with their kids for the same reason. But when he went to babysit, the kids knew he wouldn’t take any crap. They knew that “No TV” meant “No TV” for the rest of the evening, rather than just the next five minutes until the parents’ will was broken. And so they behaved well for him.

I’ve tried never to tell my kids something I wouldn’t hold them to. A ban from the computer will be enforced. Time-out for X minutes (X = age in years + 1) is timed properly, generally using the microwave countdown timer.

And as they grow older, they know what’s expected of them, and it’s becoming steadily rarer that they even need telling off.

That’s my opinion. Your mileage my vary.

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9 Replies to “Don’t lie”

  1. I hate people who seem to have no control over their kids. I’ve recently seen two sets of families on the train at the same time with kids who were about the same age. One set were happily sitting with mum, chatting and playing. Occasionally they’d get loud and silly but when mum asked them to quieten down, they would. These kids wouldn’t have been more than about three or four years old. Fast forward ten minutes to the arrival of another mum and her little hellion who, after several threats of “Dad will hit you when he gets home” and “Shut up or I’ll smack your head in” only got more obnoxious. Kid knew nothing was going to happen and so kept screaming and making a mess with what he was eating.

    I am a big believer in following through – no matter what your parenting style is (and I’m not adverse to smacking, it hasn’t done me any longterm harm at all, but that’s beside the point). If someone gets told they’re going to get a smack, give them one. If someone gets told they’re going to lose something, take it away – immediately. I hate this “or else” stuff.

  2. Oh yeah, I hear you Daniel, about that “following thru” idea. For sure, that is the only way. My kids both know Mummy means it when she says “get in bed!” When it’s time for lights out, and laying in bed, the rule is if you get out, the door is going to be shut, that’s that. Period, end of story. So, of course they tested it, the door got shut, and now they don’t get out of bed, but call to me. LOL, incessantly some nights, its seems. *sigh* But for all the downs in parenting, the ups make up for it, I believe. To think that we are in control of shaping these little peoples lives just blows me away at times. By setting limits, and drawing lines you are simply teaching them one of lifes basic lessons. Some things can’t be argued with. I heard it explained well once. If your child was playing with a razor blade, wouldn’t you take it away from him and not listen to the screaming and crying of “I want it, I want it?” Well, obviously few things are dangerous as that, but they still have to learn that what Mummy or Daddy says means. Say what you mean, mean what you say is how I parent. :)

  3. Although I’m not a parent, I’ll bet that the most effective punishment of all would be to take their mobile phones from them for a while. Given how addicted most kids are to them, I’m sure it will be effective! Especially if they are forced to go to school without it for a day or two!

  4. One of the best things written on the internet. As a Dad to two girls aged 6 (nearly 7) and 5, I try to do all of the above and it works. My girls (removing rose coloured glasses) are wonderful. Sure they have their moments, but in the whole are “well behaved”.

    The parents that screeches “Stop It!” or just their christian name at high pitch are doomed. Children do NOT find noise as a deterrent – they make enough themselves to become immune!

    I am passing this link onto friends of mine who are parents… some may take it as a subtle hint :-)

  5. Supernanny, Dr Phil, House of Tiny Tearaways, Nanny 911 … all of these shows get such ratings because of a) the fascination of watching truly dreadful behaviour from a safe distance and b) the number of people who find the frankly common-sensical, consistency-based approach that they all share SO REVOLUTIONARY. Which in itself is frightening.

    I agree with you Daniel, consistency, fairness and meaning what you say are absolutely key to obtaining good social behaviour from children and helping them grow into their own moral arbiter. If some penalty is threatened, it must be carried through if required. We use mostly time-outs with our 3-year-old, with a small (but increasing) sprinkle of withdrawal of privileges (no chocolate frog at morning tea time, no TV at the weekend etc).

    I would add one other thing, which I call “the last chance saloon” – once kids are old enough to understand, I like to give them one chance – one – to change their behaviour before the designated penalty applies. Eg, to my three-year-old yesterday, “Alia, you need to stop taking toys away from your baby sister. The next time I see you do that, you will be going into your room for 2 minutes”. And the thing is, because she knows I mean it and she knows I’ll follow through, sometimes (like yesterday) she just modifies her behaviour without the penalty being applied. I like giving her the chance to do this, as it builds her own self-control and allows her to exercise choice and agency positively.

  6. Good stuff Daniel! It’s all about committing to the program and parenting consistently over the long term. Getting a child to behave in a manner acceptable to the parent (or family/carer/society or whatever) is not a one off task, it’s on going. And that’s where the follow through counts the most.

    As my MIL says, when you signed up for this job no one ever said it would be easy!

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