Sometimes I really think I have missed some kind of key instruction in this parenting lark. From an objective distance it seems relatively straight forward. Your children misbehave and you instigate some kind of consequence: they then learn not to do it again. Simples.
And yet it doesn’t really seem to be. Because I have yet to stumble upon a consequence that works in any kind of long term meaningful way. And I have tried lots – sensible ones that come fully endorsed by parenting gurus and mad irrational ones born of momentary desperation.
1) Taken all their toys and put them in a bin bag, making them earn them back slowly with good behaviour.
RESULT: I had bin bags full of toys in my room for MONTHS and the children quickly forgot about them, choosing to play with empty boxes and do colouring instead(which is their general preferred play option anyway). In the end, I had to contrive situations where they had been ‘good’ just so I could get the blasted things out of my room.
(BONUS: very tidy, toy-less children’s rooms.)
2) Banned them from TV/ipad/computer for a set time.
RESULT: much the same as the above. Colouring + boxes = fun elsewhere.
3) Confiscated particular much loved toys and held them to ransom.
RESULT: This one is my real bone of contention. I use it probably more than most other strategies and yet it is completely ineffective. So why is it my consequence of choice? Simple. Because in the heat of the moment when they are being unreasonable; intractable and downright frustrating, I am annoyed and upset. And I want them to know that I am annoyed and upset and to feel bad for annoying and upsetting me. So I take their toys.
And then they cry and shout at me. So often I take a few more.
More crying and shouting and then hey….we appear to have hit a wall. Because at this point, they are not rational and they are really never going to stop and think ‘hey, I should stop this and then I might get my toys back quicker.’ And if they can’t stop and think, then this strategy hasn’t got a hope of being successful.
4) Set up a token economy whereby beads can be earned through kind, helpful behaviour and then exchanged weekly for pocket money. Beads can also be lost through unkind and unhelpful behaviour.
RESULT: Increases kind behaviour BUT appears to have no impact on reducing those mad outbursts of rash anger which are the main intended target of the whole process.
OUTCOME: Mostly fail.
So why do all these strategies fail?
Well irritatingly, I think I know why they fail, but it brings me no closer to developing a strategy that won’t fail.
Earning tokens; removing privileges; confiscating toys: these are based on some kind of rational thinking. i.e. ‘It is in my interest to behave in a desirable way as that will get me what I want and avoid losing things I want to keep.’ But all of us, big and small, become irrational when we are angry, or sad, or tired, or when we feel backed into a corner because we know we’ve done something wrong and we can’t make it right.
And when we are irrational, well unsurprisingly we don’t respond to rational strategies. Instead we hit out; say horrible things; shout; scream and generally give free rein to our emotions until we have burnt ourselves out. And in my experience, there really is no easy way to circumvent this process.
So what can we do? Well, at the moment, I am lost on that one. I guess we just keep trying new ideas in the hope of finding something that works. And maybe just keep trying to remind ourselves that these small people are just that: people.
And really, none of us are that great at being rational….are we?