Today I was reading through a fairly fluffy article offering advice to parents of teens. (Because with two teens in the house and a whole lot of future teens coming down the pipeline I need all the help I can get!) In the middle of this fluffy little article, I found the best parenting advice I’ve read all year. In the for-parents-of-teens version it goes:
If your teen breaks curfew and you meet her at the door ranting, what do you think she’s going to focus on—the fact that she’s late or that you’re screaming like a lunatic?
I read that and a lightbulb went off in my head. Although the context is for dealing with teens, I think that this is great guidance for all parents. If your child does something wrong and the way you correct them makes a bigger impression on them than the fact that they did something wrong, you have failed. We’d all like to think that when we flip out at our kids they will think to themselves, “gosh, when I drew with crayon all over the wall Mom wailed and cried and threw my crayons on the floor and stomped on them until I cried. I guess I better not draw on the wall again.” But the reality is that when we are done flipping out our child will sit and think, “Mommy was really scary and hurt my feelings.” Not being the most thoughtful, logical creatures in the world (perhaps something they inherented from parents who flip out over childish misdeeds?) kids tend to miss the cause-effect message when they are busy being upset/scared/mad/etc over how they have been treated. Personally, I have vivid memories of times my parents lost it and virtually no memory of what I may have done to provoke such a reaction.
So, when you are tempted to flip out or even just respond with harsh words or punishments in reaction to your child’s misdeed, stop and think for a minute. Isn’t your goal to teach proper behavior? If so, you may well get better results by toning it down and making sure the message doesn’t get lost in delivery.