a little east of reality

Thursday, October 06, 2005

the number on your forehead

No, no...this is not a 'number of the beast conversation' (though I am rather fond of the argument that '666' is actually the bankcard logo and the beast is debt). This is about disciplining children and consistency. I was reading pimme's post on spanking, and it brought to mind another aspect of child-rearing that drives me insane.

Do you, like me, know parents who constantly change their minds with their kids, give in to them when they whine, get mad about something one time and act like it's nothing the next time (just because their mood happened to be different on the two days) and refuse to abide by the same rules they set for their kids (eg punish their kids for lying to them, but lie to other people on the phone in front of the kids) ?

Well that’s NOT what drives me insane. If you don't want to be consistent with your kids, that's your choice. As long as you don't expect me to let them wreck my house when they visit, you can raise them as poorly as you choose. I also understand that even good parents get tired, or frustrated, or might just have had such a bad day that they can’t bear to argue with their kids. I get all that – I really do.


What DOES drive me insane is when those same parents whine on endlessly about how difficult their kids are and how they "just can't understand why they won't listen and do as they're told".

Newsflash: if you let children know you can be manipulated, they will manipulate you. This is not because your kids are evil. This is because kids have little personal power and what power you hand to them on a platter, they will take. Children like definable boundaries. Children respond well to consistency on the part of the adults in their lives.

I have no children (and no, that doesn't mean I know nothing), but I did child care as a part-time job for about 16 years and I was constantly amazed at how kids that drove their parents mad with whining and naughtiness would be so well-behaved for me.


"chosha can I have a biscuit?" [That's a cookie for you Americans.]
"Not before dinner."

End of conversation.

Here's the same conversation with the parent:

"Mum can I have a biscuit?"
"Not before dinner."
"Ohhh, pleeeeese! Just one?!"
"No if you have something now you won't eat your dinner."
"But I'm huuuungry."
"Dinner is almost ready."
"But I want a biscuit NOW. Can I have one now? Please Mum?"
"Fine, take one and leave me alone to finish dinner."

Fifteen minutes later:

"Finish your vegetables, Junior."
"I'm not hungry."
I asked a friend (who happens to be a professional child care worker) once why I never experience this kind of crap from kids. She said,

"It's because you have no number on your forehead."
Say what...? o_O

She explained that every parent has a number on their forehead that only their children can see. This number is the number of times they have to ask before their parents will cave in and agree to something. The number of times they have to cry, or say (falsely) 'I hate you!' before their parents will be upset enough to give them what they want.

When they are babies, this is all they have to get what they want – they cry to announce they are wet, or hungry or cold, and we respond. When they get older they have words to use and can understand rules and limits, but the technique of getting what they want remains, and if you let them, they will use it. Why? Because a) it works, and b) they are not mature enough to understand the bigger picture and to know how tiring and upsetting that kind of nagging can be.

So before you come crying to me about how impossible your kids are, please look in the mirror for a moment and see what number is written on your forehead. A little bit of consistency goes a long way. You’ll have a happier life, and so will your kids. And I won’t have to listen to you whine about the rod you made for your own freaking back…mmmkay?