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Seven Key Parenting Pitfalls: Traps to Avoid

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Pitfall 6: Failing to Give Clear Directions
Only give directions when you are prepared to enforce them.

Unless you are willing to get up and ensure immediate compliance, avoid using the term now. You're inadvertently teaching your child to ignore you when you delay or don't follow up your direction to, for example, "turn off the television now." What child in his right mind would promptly respond when experience tells him that no one will check for at least ten minutes? If you tell your child he must pick up his room before he gets to play outside, don't convey that it's all right to ignore your direction by not checking that he has done what you have asked.

Pointer for Effective Parenting
Only give directions when you are prepared to follow up. Otherwise, you teach your child to ignore what you say.

When you give directions, state them clearly. Don't phrase directions as suggestions or questions. Your child's obvious response to the pseudodirection "Are you ready to go to bed yet?" is "No, I thought I'd watch Jay Leno but thanks for asking." There's no room for ambiguity or negotiation if you say, "It's time for you to go to bed."

Offer choices of acceptable options. "You can take a bath and then have a story or story first, then bath. It's your choice." The sequence is optional; the bath is not.

It's okay to make requests if you don't care if your child says no. "Do you want to take a bath tonight?" makes it clear a bath isn't mandatory. Be careful not to cloak directions as pseudosuggestions. Otherwise, you'll find yourself furious with your child after he fails to go along with something you phrased as if it were mere suggestion. "It would be nice if you took a bath tonight" sends your child the wrong message. You want him to learn that you mean what you say and be able to differentiate suggestions from directions.

The number of instructions you give at one time is as important as how you give them. Too often parents confuse their child's inability to remember multiple directions with willful noncompliance. If you give more than one instruction, write them down. Many challenging children need the visual reminder of what to do.

Quick Tip
Write down multiple directions. A visual reminder helps your child remember what to do.

If it's inconvenient to write it down, at least be sure you have your child's full attention before you give directions. If he's working on the computer, your talking is merely background noise. There's little chance he realizes you're talking and less chance he cares. To avoid screaming at your child, first get his full attention, then tell him what you want and, whenever possible, seek acknowledgment. Get some sign that he has processed what you said and seek some commitment that he plans to follow through.

Pitfall 7: Establishing Too Many Rules
Too many rules frustrate everyone. Your child has no chance of remembering (much less abiding by) all of them if you can't even keep track of them. An excessive number of rules makes consistency between parents impossible and enforcement a function of whoever is present, their mood, and what they remember. Too many guidelines lead to arbitrary parenting, which can make a child angry. Then, when he can't meet your expectations, you'll fall into the trap of pointing out each of his errors. When he continually fails to get your approval, your child feels like a failure.

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From From Chaos to Calm: Effective Parenting of Challenging Children with ADHD and Other Behavioral Problems by Janet E. Heininger and Sharon K. Weiss. Copyright 2001. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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