Keeping kids in line: A good threat does the trick

July 26, 1998|By Susan Reimer

FAITHFUL readers often ask: "So, Mrs. Know-It-All, Read-a-Book About-It, Professional Mother - how do you keep your two little darlings in line?"

Do you have age-appropriate expectations? Do you wait 30 minutes before administering discipline? Are you consistent? Do you follow through?

Or do you cultivate their self-esteem? Do you catch them doing something right and praise them? Do you tell them you believe they will do the right thing, and then watch them live up to that belief?

Good questions all, I say.

How does a parent who writes about parenting parent?

With threats, is my answer.

I've tried all that other stuff, and my two teens run over me as though I were a black cat on a moonless night. I am disciplinary road kill.

We have self-esteem stacked to the ceiling in our house. My two get praised for how well they sleep. I consistently yell at them in a following-through kind of way.

And I can't get a damn thing out of them that they don't already want to do.

Respect? Cooperation? Personal responsibility? Charity and patience toward one another? Towels off the bathroom floor?

Don't make me laugh.

So my husband and I resort to threats, and it appears to be working, because our children think we are unpredictable and goofy beyond words.

They are convinced we just might do it.

For example: Public humiliation. Always a big winner for us.

When my daughter began to refuse her father his goodbye kiss outside the school, where they would be witnessed by her peers, he told her that if she didn't come across, he was going to get out of the car in his pajama bottoms and slippers (he starts the day slowly) and follow her into school calling her name.

He now gets kisses any time he wants them.

When my son flayed me with the usual adolescent male back talk, I told him that if he ever spoke to me like that again, I would pick him up at school wearing a pinafore dress and calling his name in a voice like Aunt Bee's.

"I will make a scene in front of your friends that will follow you through middle school like a loyal dog," I said.

You'd be surprised at how polite he can be now.

Cash is another of our favorite disciplinary techniques.

When my daughter began to complain that her brother was paid for everything he did except eat, I told her, frankly: "If you want that kind of money, you are going to have to give us a lot more trouble than you do."

I'm sure she has taken the advice, because she has a wish list pinned to her bedroom wall that has on it brand names such as "Nike," "Doc Martens" and "Old Navy." I expect open rebellion from her just in time for back-to-school shopping.

Beatings are out. Both children can dial a phone, and they have threatened to call 911 and have us carted off in handcuffs if we so much as slap their hands away from dinner before it is served.

So, you see, all the reading I have done, all the experts who have taken my phone calls - that stuff doesn't get me through breakfast on the mornings when everyone oversleeps.

Tough break for my kids, but I use the tools God gave me, and God gave me a newspaper column on family life. So, in my darkest moments as a parent, I reach into my professional bag of tricks and say:

"Knock it off, or you'll read about yourself in the paper tomorrow!"

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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