I know, this sounds completely counter-intuitive, but it works and here is why:
Children want to find limits. They want to know what is right and what is wrong. So at some point in raising a child, you are going to say, “If you throw your food one more time, I will take your food away”. Instinctively, you want the child to stop throwing food, but for discipline’s sake start chanting in your head, “Throw the food! Throw the food!”
If your child throws the food- then they learn that there is a consequence. The food gets taken away.
If they don’t ever throw the food, then they haven’t learned anything. They don’t know what actually happens when food is thrown and so they will be more likely to throw it in the future to find out how we react.
Here’s another example:
My son doesn’t want to get out of the bath. I totally understood that. I say, “If you want time for a story before bed, you’ll need to get out of the bath now.” Perfect, that should get him out. It didn’t. I say, “OK, I’m going to give you one more chance to get out…” Then 30 seconds later say, “This is your last chance.” I start to walk away saying, “OK, no story then…” and my son puts down his bath toys just in the nick of time and gets out of the bath. Hooray! He gets a story!!
But he didn’t learn anything except that he can probably get away with about 4 more minutes of playing once I say it’s time to stop. He will continue this behavior for the next 100 baths. And I will be asking myself why my children never listen to me.
My son doesn’t want to get out of the bath. I totally understood that. I say, “If you want time for a story before bed, you’ll need to get out of the bath now.” Perfect, that should get him out. It didn’t. I say, “OK, I’m going to give you one more chance to get out…”
This moment in time is the perfect moment in discipline time. I then chant in my head while getting the toothbrushes ready, “Don’t get out! Don’t get out! Don’t get out!”.
I take one look back at the bath and then walk out the door. If you have other children, you can then start their bedtime routine up until the story part, and tell your child, “Sorry, you don’t get a story tonight because you used up your story time in the bath.” If this is your only child, then wait about 5 minutes (or however long story time is) and then do your bedtime routine then skip the story part with the same explanation.
Your child will get upset, because it is difficult not to get your way. We want our bath and our story too! But your child has also learned something. That your words have meaning. That choices have consequences. That there are limits.
All of this is done in an empathetic and calm way. There was no yelling. I was never angry. And I truly felt sorry. I really did want him to get the story, but more than that, I wanted him to feel comfortable in that there are limits and that my words are meaningful.
This article could also be titled, “Follow Through”, but I think as parents we know that we need to follow through, it is just hard. But when we think, “Make the wrong choice! Make the wrong choice! Make the choice that will facilitate learning!!” then we are more likely to follow through and instead of getting frustrated, we will actually enjoy it because we know that we are teaching our children.