Parenting is one of those areas that just comes naturally to some folks, but the rest of us have to work at it. So when you learn a new technique or finally “see the light” in a particular problem area, you should graciously share that information with other sufferers like yourself. So let me share some of the pearls of wisdom I have had the good fortune to learn…the hard way.
Kid Loud and Proud
Let’s start with Billy the loud boy. He’s the kid that acts out in restaurants. I actually saw him while dining today. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Billy, as my “Billy” is much bigger now and doesn’t act that way, but this was someone else’s Billy and, fortunately, one of these parents had learned the “golden rule” for dealing with Billy’s; however, the other parent hadn’t. This makes it hard to get Billy to change his behavior, ultimately, as both parents have to be on the same page. Billy is between two and five, usually, but he could be younger or older.
This Billy was about three and perched in a kiddie chair at the end of a large group’s table, one parent on each side, and the table laden with food and drink, with everyone talking. Billy wanted to be noticed, so he let a wail rip and got everyone’s attention, including mine and that of other diners.
His father, the parent with a clue, ignored his outburst and got others to talking again, but Billy caught his mom’s eye – and saw her placating appeal – so he let another wail ring out, his efforts rewarded by her additional pleas and pleading eyes. The diners at the table were not sure how to react, we parents don’t want to interfere with other people’s discipline programs and this group was no exception, sitting uncomfortably until they could gauge the parents’ mood and moves to come. Billy did too, waiting to see if they – or his father – would give him the attention he desired.
Dad gave a low laugh and told Billy in a slight condescending way that he would have to do better than that if he wanted to be noticed by anyone but mom, and then he proceeded to re-engage his dining companions verbally. They were quick to go with the flow, ignoring Billy’s outburst, conversation returning to normal. Mom was trying to play “please be quiet…don’t act like this, honey, please” in a cajoling voice that toddlers just love to run roughshod over, so Billy began again.
The diners knew the score now so they ignored him and kept talking, and Dad told Billy that he really needed to work on his voice strength, it just wasn’t loud enough and if he was going to make a habit of doing this to get attention he needed to be better at it, since it wasn’t working for him. This took the wind out of Billy’s sails and we never saw him raise it again while there, turning to look at who might have overhead Dad share this tidbit of embarrassment before he began to sulk.
My Own Experience
I’ve done the same thing with a slight twist before. After my Billy pulled one of his shrieking episodes out in public (one time too many), I put on a shocked face (he gloated at first, thinking he had gotten to me), but then I told him in a whisper that I was embarrassed that this was as loud as he could scream and, pointing at some children who were laughing, I said that if he couldn’t do any better than that he should just hang it up, as he was only embarrassing himself among the other children who were laughing at him now. Mistakenly thinking that they were really laughing at him, and not because he had got one over on his parent – as was their real motive for laughing – he didn’t do it again even though I prompted him to, “try again, honey, and this time really push your voice, get as loud as you can!”
I could see the little wheels turning in his brain as he contemplated what I was saying, totally confused that I would actually suggest he do it. Heck, this was what he did to annoy me, and here I was trying to help him be better at it. He didn’t get it. It didn’t make sense to him but he didn’t know why. On top of that, he was a little put out that his show hadn’t been a success with the other children, as I had alluded, and was instead a laughing joke to them. Having his efforts mocked made him reluctant to repeat it even though I was urging him own (thank God he didn’t do it and fell for my line!)
When the kids nearby started their own little screaming fits shortly thereafter and turned to look at him and laugh (hoping he would applaud their efforts now), he mistakenly took it as further proof that I was right (and they were still laughing at him) so he might not want to employ this method again, as it was only humiliating him and giving him no pleasure. You can imagine those children’s despair when they didn’t get the response they wanted and expected from him: He scrunched up his face in a pout, eyebrows drawn together and gave them a glare before turning back to the table. Now I had managed to fix their loud behavior and Billy’s all in one meal. I asked Billy if he would like some ice cream. I was in the mood to celebrate!
No Permanent Damage Done
If you are one of those parents that thinks this is cruel and unusual punishment, I suggest you live with a domineering toddler a little longer and suspect you will come around to the logic being employed at some point in the near future, as this type of creative endeavor doesn’t hurt the little psyche of Billy or any other child who is normally loved and encouraged to succeed in cultivating self-esteem and communicating feelings in the proper manner. We aren’t talking about children in this article who have suffered any type of mistreatment at the hands of their parents or others, this is just about a child who knows what they are doing is wrong but does it any way…for attention.
Kids usually looking to embarrass grownups, or to get their way about something, or to just get attention, will let this kind of volume rip in public, and the best way to handle it is to act like they are failing at the job. If you succumb to the temptation to cower and plead with them to stop then you have just given them power, and kids can’t handle power and don’t need to be given any.
Divide and Conquer
Parents have to be creative in dealing with their little bundles of joy. Some acting classes would help, but at least make sure your spouse is on the same page with you in parenting matters, because one of the first things kids learn where parents are concerned is the old “divide and conquer” technique, but more about that next time.
Help from a Real Expert
If you need some help right away with your “problem child” you can always pick up an excellent resource by Dr. Kevin Leman – his book entitled, “How to Make Children Mind Without Losing Yours” (what a Godsend). Leman, a noted psychologist, author and father of five, tells delightful escapades about a “little Buford” which is sure to bring a chuckle or two, as well as offer many helpful hints. In fact, I’m almost certain that Dr. Leman’s invaluable advice played a role in getting my creative juices going when dealing with my Billy that day. Leman seems to inspire parents to “think outside the box.”
Dr. Kevin Leman’s Book entitled, “How to Make Children Mind, Without Losing Yours”
“How to Parent a Problem Child” article on Associated Content: http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/456087/radell.html