Jennifer James of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, admits that her oldest daughter can sometimes be a handful. When all else fails, Jennifer finds herself blurting out, "Wait until your father gets home!" But, says the mother of two, "I feel so powerless when I use that threat. I wonder why my daughter is afraid of her dad finding out about her bad behavior but feels right at home acting up around me."
The answer may lie in Jennifer's choice of words. While it's easy to rely on timeworn phrases of frustration, the truth is that the more you use them, the more likely your kids will tune you out.
Here are five expressions of exasperation that won't get you the good behavior you want, and more effective methods that will.1. "Because I said so, that's why!"
Is this your answer in the nightly battle of "Why do I have to go to bed?" and other questioning of your authority? Your child might naturally respond, "But I want to stay up later!" and the verbal volley could go on forever, notes Gina Richman, Ph.D., director of the Child and Family Therapy Clinic at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. He deserves a valid reason, whether or not he agrees with it.
But be prepared. Giving an explanation may prolong the conversation as children try to find loopholes in your logic, says Dr. Richman. "You're also giving them hope that they can change your mind. So you must close the door to any further negotiation. You can say, ‘You have to be well-rested for school tomorrow. That is the reason. The discussion is over. If you persist, there will be consequences for not listening to me.'" By making a rule and having a valid reason for it, you are teaching your child to be responsible, adds Dr. Richman.2. "Wait until your father gets home."
Like Jennifer James, many mothers wonder why the mere mention of dad's name strikes fear in the hearts of their kids. But mom? No need to worry. She won't do anything. "What you're saying is, ‘I have no control over your behavior,'" explains Dr. Richman. Your child gets the message that she can do whatever she wants when mom's around.
You need to regain your authority. First, understand that consequences -- whether a time-out or other restrictions -- need to be enforced immediately to make a difference. Both parents should set down the rules. "Then dad can add that ‘Mom needs to call me at work if you're not doing your homework,'" says Dr. Richman. "Make clear that mom will ask once, then if dad has to get involved, that's the child's choice." As you resort to calling dad for backup less often, you regain control.3. "Don't make me come in there!"
Instead of shouting this meaningless threat when you hear your youngsters bickering in another room, ask yourself, Can I stay out of it? advises Dr. Roberts. "Let them learn to solve their own problems by talking."
What if their squabble escalates to name-calling or hitting? Enter the room quietly and don't bother asking pointless questions like "What's going on?" or "Who started it?" Just separate the children and give each a time-out.
Once your children have calmed down, be clear that you will not allow them to be abusive or to belittle each other, then discuss other actions they can take to avoid problems. "Talk about what can be done differently next time," suggests Dr. Roberts. The message you're sending is that they need to learn how to handle disputes themselves.