The Norman Transcript

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October 4, 2013

Behavior problems say more about parents than children

NORMAN — Most parents describe discipline problems as if they are “coming out” of their kids, that the problems in question reveal facets of their kids’ personalities — things like “strong-willed.”

The fact is that in nearly every instance, discipline problems with a child tell more about the parents than they do the child.

Take “my child is argumentative,” for example. Arguments between parent and child occur because the parent gives explanations for decisions he makes.

“My friend is coming over, and I’d like to serve coffee and talk with her in this room, so I’d like you to pick up your toys and move to another room” is likely to evoke “I was here first!” or “Why can’t you talk with your friend in the kitchen?” And the argument is on.

The form of the instruction is the problem. The parent should have simply said, “I want you to pick these toys up and move them to another room. Why? Because I said so.”

Yes, I know that’s horribly old-fashioned, but the use of authoritative, non-explanatory instructions along with those very “incorrect” four words prevented many an argument in those old-fashioned days. And allow me to point out that parent-child arguments benefit no one, no matter who “wins.”

“My child won’t do what he’s told” is another example of how parents fail to realize their role in a discipline problem. Children will do what they are told — most of the time, that is, but that’s at least 80 percent.

The reality is that most of today’s parents don’t tell. Instead, they plead, bargain, bribe, cajole, reason, explain, encourage, suggest and promise. When none of that works, they threaten. And when that doesn’t work, they scream. Then they feel bad and go right back to trying to be “nice,” meaning pleading, bargaining, bribing and so on.

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