Caring Discipline Tips #1 Self-Sabotage 


One of the most common self-sabotages is TALKING AND TALKING to children about their misbehaviors. As strange as it seems, talking and talking about the misbehavior undermines effective discipline, even if the talking takes the form of good, reasonable advice. Advising, reminding, lecturing, moralizing, or verbally trying to teach in any way when either the adult or the child is seething with negative emotions turns off the child’s ability to listen. Children know when they have done something wrong and they will accept, and learn from, a correction for their misbehavior without resentment if you don’t sabotage yourself by talking about it. As Rudolph Driekurs used to say, “Act, don’t talk.” (Pretend you’ve put a piece of duct tape over your mouth. Bite your lip. Count to 10.)

The following true story is an example of a logical consequence correction that was successful because the adults were careful not to sabotage themselves:

Three-year old Mimi had a tantrum nearly every time her father took her to the grocery store. He finally asked a friend to help out. The next time he took his daughter to the grocery store and she began her tantrum, he parked his grocery cart in a corner and, with Mimi looking on, called his friend who was waiting for his call nearby, “Will you come get Mimi? She doesn’t know how to behave in the store.” The friend promptly came to get Mimi and matter-of-factly took her home, being careful not to scold or give her much attention of any kind. The father finished his shopping. When he got home, he pretended he’d forgotten all about the incident, and greeted Mimi with a pleasant smile, but he didn’t bring a treat for her (which she usually got whenever she went to the store with her father.) Both the father and his friend respected Mimi’s feelings by not sabotaging laughing or talking about the incident in front of Mimi. Because of “this-is-just-the-way-the-world-works” attitude on the part of the adults, Mimi learned that if she wanted to go shopping, she had to change her behavior.

The resentment that arises in children from being forced to listen again and again to what they’ve done wrong triggers a powerful negative response, “They can force me to listen, but they can’t force me to do what they say…they can’t force me to believe what they believe.” This is a crucial point: In order to maintain a sense of inner integrity and self-respect, the child very often feels compelled to do exactly what the adult is warning against. The self-sabotage of talking about the misbehavior creates a power struggle between the adult and child.

Power struggles are especially destructive to the adult’s efforts to instill a sense of responsibility in the child. When the parent or teacher lectures, advises, reminds, warns, scolds, even by so subtle a method as arching an eyebrow or using a blaming tone of voice, “Now you’ve done it, and after all the times I’ve warned you,” it becomes easy for the child, who is trying to protect his inner sense of integrity and self-worth, to blame the adult. The child begins to feel that he or she is the injured party. In the eyes of the child, the adult becomes the cause of the child’s misbehavior. “It’s not my fault. If they weren’t always picking on me I would do it. I’ll show them they can’t push me around.”

Children caught in these power struggles grow up making decisions based on whatever the adult does not want them to do;  if Mom says do it, Natalie will not do it; if Mom says do not do it, Natalie will at least try to do it. Children like this often grow into irresponsible adults who continually blame everyone else for their own poor decisions.

I am not suggesting that you stop talking to their children about your value system, your religious beliefs or philosophy of life. But the time to teach children these things is when you and they are in neutral or positive emotional situations, for example: doing something together like washing the car, popping popcorn, taking a walk together, or cuddled on the sofa watching a favorite movie.