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Eight Destructive Discipline Techniques

Hurtful Talk

Most parental “crimes” against their child come under the category of hurtful talk or no talk. Talking is very powerful. What you say to your child, and how you say it, matters tremendously. Talking can build a child up, or tear her ego down to rubble. Here's a list of verbal disciplinary don'ts. Don't use this list to beat yourself up. We're aiming to make you the best parent you can be; and I don't know a parent in the world who has achieved all the points on this list.

  • Cool the commanding and demanding. Commands and demands are sometimes necessary for safety reasons (“Get your finger out of that socket right now!”), but they should only be used in emergencies. Commands and demands are a power show—parent over child. Instead of, “Get over here this instant,” and, “Why? Because I say so!” try using requests. They'll go a lot further in fostering mutual respect. For kids who tend to be willful and push buttons, commands and demands will often get you exactly what you don't want—resistance when you need something done immediately. Enlist the child's help. In most cases, a gentle request will actually save you time.
  • Sarcasm sucks. Here's the problem with sarcasm: Little kids don't understand it, and big ones do. Sarcasm is a way of putting distance between you and your child. It puts kids down, builds resentment, and it hurts. Consider what audience you are being sarcastic for. Often parents are at their most sarcastic when other adults are around—they're not really talking with their kid, their talking about her. This isn't right.
  • Nagging is another no-no. Nagging is continuous harping about a task, a habit, or a personality trait. (“John, can't you ever pick up after yourself? Remember to get your shoes off the floor. I've told you a million times, John, your shoes are in my way! I can't believe that you never remember to pick up anything!”) Bug, bug, bug. Nagging is a completely ineffective technique of getting a message to your child and, while it's not particularly damaging, it does tend to damage the communication pathways between parents and kids. I often use the example of the sense of smell. You can get used to rotten odors-just think of all the people who used to work in packing houses. They'd walk in, and the smells would almost knock them down. By the end of the day, no problem (with smells, anyway), their noses would have simply shut down. It's the same thing with nagging-your child will turn her ears off, and you'll be nagging at a wooden post. It's unpleasant, for you, to feel unheard. Avoid that sensation, say it once, say it again strongly, and then be done with it and move on to action. (Remember that nagging is not the same as reminding.)
  • Shaming, belittling, labeling, and name-calling don't cut the mustard. These are verbal forms of humiliation (often used by parents who would never use the old techniques) and they often include emotional humiliation, like mocking, or making fun of a child in public. “You lazy boy!” “Go ahead, eat that candy. You'll be sorry when your thighs get even fatter and nobody asks you to the dance!” and “Here's Marie, who takes after her aunt the slut.” Remember, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can ever hurt me!” Kids will live up to your expectations-good or bad, and they'll internalize your opinions of them. Keep your reinforcements positive.
  • No talk. Shutting down and not talking to your child about what is bothering you or him, or about his behavior, is not effective in curing misbehavior or avoiding it in the future. Confrontation is hard. It's a truism, though, that if you talk about it, you'll all feel better afterwards.
  • Yelling isn't effective. I've saved yelling for last on this list because almost every parent does it. Okay, it's not a crime. It's not, however, effective in solving problems or communicating anything except how frustrated you are. When you're yelling you're certainly not talking with your child, and too much yelling, or yelling that is too fierce, may cause your child to feel angry, intimidated, resentful, or shamed. Expect yelling, tears, withdrawal, or a child who learns to ignore you until you calm down.

  • Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

    To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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