Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Right Tool for the Job

As parents, we have to influence our kids.  We have to keep them safe, teach them, create experiences for them, and structure their environment.   But how? 

It would be a beautiful life if all it took to be a good parent was to ask kids nicely.  Unfortunately, and generally speaking, kids can be distracted, tired, overstimulated, upset--and frankly, clueless.  Getting through to them can be a tall order.

So here are some ways to influence our kids, roughly in order from least coercive to most coercive.  Also in order from emotional neutrality to greater use of emotional and/or physical force.  It's not a complete list--if you notice something I've missed, feel free to comment.

1.  asking nicely
2.  asking (less nicely)
3.  asking with a sharper tone of voice
4.  threatening
5.  bribing
6.  asking with more volume
7.  withholding attention 
8.  isolating
9.  commanding
10.  shaming
11.  shouting
12. screaming
13.  hitting

My first intention is not to pass judgment on any of these methods of influencing a child.  My primary goal is to ask these questions:

How do you influence your kids?
Does the choice depend on how you're feeling, and how much support you have?
What are the good and bad things about each choice? (for the child, for you).


  1. This blog is perfect timing for me since my child is nearing 2 and is definitely testing boundaries and watching our reactions. From the above list so far, I typically try numbers 1-3 and then skip to 7) withholding attention. Luckily her tantrums are very rare so we are only dealing so far with things like, refusing to get her diaper changed, refusing medicine, and seeking out objects or areas of the house she knows she shouldn't get into. Mostly we tell her the rules repeatedly and then try to distract her on to other things. The real parenting will begin very soon though. Looking forward to seeing more on this topic!

  2. My experience? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Your management of your child's overall stress/stimulation level will do a lot to contain the "tantrums." Toddlers and preschoolers already have so much going on, with their huge surges of physical, mental, and emotional development.

    I also think it's important to beware of the "slippery slope" worries. Parents (me included) always fear that their kids' difficult behavior will increase in severity and/or frequency. I find that the upsets come in spurts that last a couple of weeks. And what works to dissipate them changes--so we're constantly challenged, as parents, to be flexible. During these times, it's *very* important to make sure we (parents) are rested, eating well, and getting a lot of support.