Little and Bigs / Myth #2
Bigs have a hard time distinguishing between the following sets of actions: managing behavior, punishment (defined today in a more politically correct term as consequence), and discipline. If you find yourself saying any of the following – “My kid(s) are driving me crazy.” “My child won’t listen to me.” “I want to know what happened to the other kid. Did (he) or (she) get in trouble also?” “I just frigging wish they would behave without being told.” – then your difficulty is your focus on your own behavior and lack of results with the Littles. It is absolutely necessary to set boundaries, teach effective time management, assign chores to benefit the household and walk your talk. There is an appropriate mandate encouraged by experts to use both extrinsic reward (a prize) and intrinsic reward (a compliment) when rewarding “good” behavior. However, when it is time to assign a consequence for errant behavior, do it to create an immediate, dramatic, TEMPORARY stop of the behavior. Know that it will not, in the long run, change a Little’s behavior. When you apply a consequence several times for the same behavior, for example, “Go to timeout NOW for 10 minutes. I told you not to hit your sister (or brother or dog etc.).”, then know you are interceding effectively but expect the same behavior to continue at a later point. Littles are genius at mitigating consequence. They will either construct a strategic balancing act with the consequence and undesirable behavior or even head it off at the pass (hide the timeout chair) before having any desire to change the errant behavior. In a Little’s mind, something like hitting a sibling (not hard enough to hurt but enough to irritate and get their own way) works just fine. Until they are consistently (sometimes to the pulling-out-your-hair point) taught, counseled, and shown a different way to conduct themselves, then the annoying hands-on-another contact between Littles will continue (which, concerning this particular behavior, is the beginning of promoting the belief into adulthood that bullying is OK.) Consequence that is immediate stops errant behavior and is excellent for Small Littles. Consequence that is assigned later and is dramatic (more for Medium Littles) will put up a pretty big roadblock. In other words, when, for example, sleepovers with friends or no Screens after 4 p.m. or loss of any privilege is taken away for a month and there is 100% follow through, then Bigs have created a very effective “pause, do not push replay” in a Little’s mind. It has not necessarily changed the motivation or desire behind the errant behavior, but you’ve created space and time to discipline the child.
Which moves the discussion to the biggest myth buster. Punishment/Consequence is NOT Discipline. Discipline is not about blame, assigning guilt, denying privilege, getting to the bottom of things, or administering consequence. These are all management techniques and will vary greatly depending on how quickly a Big will intercede to stop a behavior immediately and smooth the waters. Discipline’s sole objective is first and foremost that the Little with the inappropriate behavior will take responsibility for their actions which is the first step to guiding a Little to change their behavior. Key to remember, Bigs? You are not changing shit except to maybe model the desired behavior more frequently in the company of Littles. It is not possible for a human to change the behavior of another human. I don’t care how much you apply consequences. Influence the decision? Yes. But a Little, when it comes to the labyrinth of inappropriate behavior, must experience the come to Jesus moment and decide to change the behavior and know how to do it. Even if we drag them to it. Discipline is about getting them to discipline themselves regarding their conduct in all situations. So, here’s a surefire trick which will set the stage for this all-important process. It is the path to a Little’s vibrant physical, mental, and emotional health. Remember that you have already interceded to immediately stop an errant behavior. The trick is designed to shift the focus of the conversation directly on them, and not on the circumstances of the misbehavior. So, through whatever means, the Little is in your presence. Perhaps still not expecting any discussion of their behavior. No matter. DO NOT let them slouch, sit, or get comfortable or “buddy” like. This makes it clear that you did not invite them into your presence for playtime and snacks. They are to be attentive, make eye contact, and respond to some form of this question: “Why were you called to come see me?” Realization dawns upon their face and I guarantee the first words out of their mouth are going to be an excuse, crying, or blaming the dog for the tragedy at hand. Simply interrupt and say, “Start your sentence with I”. It works like a charm even if you have to interrupt several times before their painstaking use of the correct pronoun occurs. Until they can truthfully finish that sentence by simply saying what they did, no matter how egregious the behavior, there is no point in expecting any change in their behavior. After they state their behavior, for example, “I hit my brother on the head with the stack of legos”, then and only then ask the second question, “why did you do that or why did that happen” etc. By following this sequence, the Big has created the appropriate timeframe to get the Little’s perception of the incident. This is a necessary step to eliminate errant behavior. Again, the Little must be the one to change behavior to achieve discipline. Now you can have any appropriate discussion about the incident, or about a better choice etc. To do this before a Little takes responsibility for their action by clearly declaring the “I” statement is like pissing in the wind. And seal the compact as you end the discussion by verbally stating “I really appreciate you taking responsibility for what you did.” It will be clear then, when you assign a thoughtful consequence that day or days later, why you are doing that. And, do it calmly. It is all about creating the correct environment for the Big to direct the show instead of reacting or being put on the defensive justifying yourself to a Little or cajoling them to behave. Just remember these words: “Start your sentence with I.” It is a classic myth buster. Aye, aye, matey.
Let’s face it…What is popular is not always right. What is right is not always popular.