Let’s face it. As parents, we’re not perfect. We love our kids, we do the best we can, but we all make mistakes. It’s hard to break old habits and sometimes it’s just easier to give in than turn our children’s imperfect behavior into teaching moments. Here are four big parenting mistakes we all make when it comes to disciplining our children and how we can do our best to avoid them!
The first mistake we are all guilty of is bribing. Bribing is when we try to exchange a gift or reward for our children’s good behavior. This is when our child is already behaving poorly and we bribe them to stop.
We’ve all been there. Our two-year-old is throwing another tantrum in the grocery store so we give them candy in hopes that they will be quiet so we can avoid embarrassment. Bribing teaches our kids that we reward bad behavior. If our kids always get something good for acting poorly, they will continue to act poorly to achieve the same result.
Bad Behavior = Candy (or whatever I want that makes me happy): A child thinks, “If I act this way, I will get what I want.”
Instead, we should expect good behavior from our kids. Kids should not expect to get a reward every time they behave. However, we want to reward good behavior as often as possible. This doesn’t have to be anything big or fancy. A simple verbal praise will suffice. “I loved the way you shared your toys today! Great job!”
If a child does something exceptionally good, then I will reward it – but not always. On the other hand, I always make sure bad behavior is not rewarded. If one of my kids throws a fit in a store, I generally buy all the other kids a small piece of candy at the checkout counter and say, “This is for kids who did not throw a fit. You can try again next time.” It generally only takes once, if the child is stubborn sometimes twice, in order for them to correct their behavior for the next time.
2. Empty Threats
Have you ever flown off the handle and made a ridiculous threat that you couldn’t back up? Maybe something along the lines, “If you don’t stop you will get no TV for a year!” We can say things in the heat of the moment that we realistically can’t follow through.
As parents, if we give out a consequence, we need to follow through. Our words are so important. We need to choose the hills we are willing to die on because if we decide to fight a battle – win!
If your child is behaving poorly, stop, take a breath. Evaluate the situation and decide if this is something that is annoying (and it just irks you) or if it is a behavior that needs to be corrected. A three-year-old asserting their independence by wanting to choose their own clothes might be annoying if they choose to wear one sandal and one snow boot. But if you’re just going to play in your backyard, is it a big deal? Whereas a child who doesn’t want to put on their shirt to go to church might be an issue.
If we ‘threaten’ and say “If you don’t get dressed you’ll go back to bed,” but realistically we need to leave the house now because we’re already late, our child learns that we won’t really follow through on our consequences and test you every time.
Take a breath. Evaluate the situation. Is it a big deal? What kind of consequence will make us happy? Remember, if we threaten to take away the TV, then we need to provide another source of entertainment – or we will get annoyed and eventually cave in. If you’re going to ‘lay down the law’ – make sure it’s a law you can keep!
However, when we use an ’empty threat’ that we know we can’t follow through on, we can turn that into an opportunity to talk about God’s grace and show our child that we are willing to forgive.
Negotiating, like bribing, is something we see happen frequently. Have you ever witnessed a parent say, “Eat all your food or no dessert.” Then, a few minutes later, “Just eat your hamburger or no dessert.” And again, “Okay, only three more bites and you can have dessert.”
The child went from having to eat everything, to just a few simple bites. What will happen the next time the child does not want to comply with the rules? They will wait until the parent starts negotiating until their ‘rule’ becomes so minimal that they are willing to comply. And kids will wait it out once they learn they can!
This is why our words are so important. Choose your battles and stick to your rules! Set the bar for your kids, and then make them rise to the occasion!
So many parents undermine their authority by constantly repeating themselves. When a parent repeats themselves, the child learns that they don’t have to listen the first time.
If you request something of your child, expect them to do it the first time. If they don’t, they have a consequence. This is why I’m not a fan of the 1…2…3 technique. Think about it this way, a policeman will not pull up beside your teenage driver and yell, “I’m pulling you over if you don’t slow down in 1…2…3.”
Real-life consequences happen without warning. We should prepare our children for the real world early on so they can avoid the pain of learning this later on in life. It’s easier to teach a child to follow through the first time than it is to teach a teenager or young adult.
As a parent, a child will learn to respect you if you require immediate and complete obedience.
Our parenting goal is to teach our children about Jesus and teach them how to follow God’s word. If our children learn that they don’t have to follow our rules, how can we expect them to follow God’s?
Give yourself lots of grace. I still make these mistakes. But when I do, I try to learn from them and move on. Parenting is hard, but with a little work and a lot of Jesus, we can do this!