While raising my three children, I carried a secret commitment in my heart. It was this: “I won’t talk to my children in worse ways than I speak to my adult friends.”
Since I wouldn’t say to a friend, “You are clumsy and stupid,” I didn’t say it to my children. Since I’d never curse at a friend, I didn’t curse at my children.
Parents and grandparents in my readership, I recommend that you make the same secret commitment. Secretly, I say, because if it’s known to your children or grandchildren, they might throw it in your faces. Just let it be a check and balance system in your heart of hearts.
In counseling, I observe that parents and grandparents speak to their children more rudely than to adult friends, and even more rudely than they speak to enemies. I kindly say to those mentors, “You wouldn’t normally seek out an enemy and say, ‘I just want to let you know one more time that I think you’re a (bad word) idiot,’ so let’s not treat our children worse than our enemies … or our friends.”
For years, I worked with defiant teenagers and their parents and step-parents, and the siblings affected by the battles in the home. To relax the tension, I taught a new way to parent children. I called it “catchy concepts” because it was easy for parents and children to catch on to the concepts.
Also, parents who had been arguing over “how to discipline” could lower their defenses by agreeing to parent by the new method. That way, no one won and no one lost. They both subscribed to something new.
What I wrote in the 1980s remains in use today. The six catchy concepts are excellent because they build the maturity for being successful in the adult world. I’ll list them here, and readers may feel free to type them into their computers, print a displayable copy, explain them to children and post them on the refrigerator for easy access.
1) If you are rude to the suppliers, you shouldn’t expect new supplies.
2) If you don’t do your part in the family, you don’t get family privileges.
3) If you mess it up, you’ll clean it up.
4) If you abuse it, you’ll lose it.
5) If you waste it, you’ll replace it.
6) If you want more than necessary, you’ll need to pay the additional amount of the price.
Once these are explained and displayed on the fridge, then guardians can say to a child who misbehaved, “Read the disciplinary guidelines, decide which of the six applies to what you’ve done and tell us the consequence.” Say it matter-of-factly with no ugliness in your manner.
Being ugly allows a transfer of anger. It allows a child to be angry at a guardian for a rude attitude rather than feeling foolish for causing consequences for himself or herself. When a child is insulted by a parent, he or she can lose sight of the lesson.
So, don’t say, “Okay! You messed it up! Let’s see how you like cleaning it up!”
No. Ask in a friendly manner, “Which concept applies?”
The kid will likely answer, “I guess ‘mess it up, clean it up.’”
Then, you respond, “That’ll work. I just bought a new cleaning spray. When you finish, you can help me start the barbecue.”
That’s all the misbehavior deserves, and then “normal” is readily recaptured.
If mentors are consistent in application, soon children will think things through before making a mistake. They’ll think, “I don’t want to mess up stuff because I’ll have to clean it up.” Work, you see, is a four-letter word to children.
On another subject, parents are learning to say, “I’m not giving you a phone, I am giving you the use of a phone for which I am paying.” That way it’s clear from the get-go that the parents can monitor phone usage. That’s because the phone itself doesn’t belong to the child.
And as you grant phone usage, say something like this: “Having a phone is a family privilege, and I will check your phone to see if you are using it responsibly. If you aren’t trustworthy, in our family ‘if you abuse it, you lose it.’”