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Tiny Tyrants

Tiny tyrants are made not born as you can see from my answers to the following two questions.

“I’ve tried everything and I just feel like a complete failure as a parent. My son is my first and only child so we’re learning together. My son’s attitude is horrible and thinks all our punishments are funny.”

“Anytime I pay attention to one twin, the other twin gets very jealous. I have been accused of not loving the twin I am not hugging and her say that because I am not hugging her it must mean that she needs to find a new house to live in. Also when one twin is legitimately hurt and I go to care for her the other twin started screaming about an imagined “ouch” in her foot that materialized as she stood before me. I tried saying I would look at her foot after I was done with her sister, but that wasn’t good enough. The end result was a twin who was screaming at the top of her lungs “MOMMY! I HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU!” Ignoring it didn’t stop the screaming and resulted in me getting hit. What do I do?”

Tiny tyrants drive parents nuts but they also suffer. Children are uncannily smart about things they cannot yet verbalize. They really do better if the parents rule, it’s scary to get away with stuff. Even 5-year-olds (the age of the tyrants in today’s questions) are smart enough to know they are not big enough to call the shots or run the world. Children want and thrive on parental control…the right kind of parental control which consists of enforcing rules while encouraging autonomy. (I never said parenting was easy!)

How can parents recognize a tiny tyrant in their midst? First time parents may think tantrumming, screaming at parents, laughing at parental sanctions and ignoring what parents say is normal, all kids do it. Wrong! It is learned behavior, your child has learned you don’t mean what you say and that you always cave. The diagnosis is clinched when the teacher in preschool tells you what an obedient child you have and describes a little angel whose behavior at home is very different.

What can be done? There are three steps: 1. Be and feel in charge. 2) Master the Effective Command. 3) Enforce consequences every time the tyrant does not obey.

First and foremost the major reason children don’t obey parents is that the parents do not feel in-charge or act in charge. I tell parents, especially first-timers, “You are your child’s parent and you are the one in charge. This is a parenting mantra, repeat it to yourself as often as necessary.”

Second, most parents use ineffective commands and wonder why the kids don’t mind us. I certainly was guilty of this. What are ineffective commands? Yelling from across the room, vague or unrealistic threats, stupid questions like “Why can’t you behave?” and begging, “Please get along with your brother!”

Parents also say too much, too often. We find ourselves saying what we want over and over again. When the kids don’t listen our voices get louder and louder and the crescendo ends with a grand finale: “I told you a hundred times to put away the toys!” But the toys are still on the floor and the defeated parent picks then up again.

Why? Because the children tune you out until the volume or exasperation levels are high enough to get their attention. Why? Because they have your number. They have learned your habits. They know you will say it many, many times before they have to act.

There is a better way to get kids to listen, to obey you, or to stop “bad” behavior now. I call it the Effective Command. In order for the Effective Command to work the parent must:

1) Get close to the child.
2) Start with the child’s name.
3) Make a clear, concise statement.
4) Have a commanding expression on your face.
5) Use a commanding tone of voice–but keep the volume down,
6) Don’t say please–a command is not a request like “Please pass the salt.”
7) Omit any words of warning–hitting is never allowed.
8) Do not give the child a choice–it’s a rule.

If the Effective Command works and your child does the desired behavior
or stops doing the undesired behavior, you’re done and you have avoided a
lot of wear and tear on your vocal cords. If the Effective Command does not work because your children think they can tune you out as, in their experience, you are the grownup who never means what you say, it’s time to learn about consequences.

The third part of my advice to parents of tiny tyrants is that appropriate consequences must be enforced every time the tiny tyrant does not obey. .
Consequences can be natural…if the child smashes a toy the toy is gone and the child can’t play with it anymore. Logical consequences are determined by the parent based the misbehavior. The child who hits is removed from the scene. Children must learn that their acts have consequences. But consequences are ineffective unless the parents enforce them every time. Consistency counts.