I spend a huge amount of time reading studies and scientific articles about parenting and I’ve always been a bit suspicious of studies about the percentage of parents who spank their kids. The numbers always seemed too low. After all, who in their right mind would spank a child in front of a bunch of scientists who are going to write an article about you? And even in a survey without witnesses—how many people are honestly going to admit that they smack their kids?
Seems to me that there are consequences in place for being late in high school. Your grades get dinged, you have detention, and more. So why does a parent in Eugene, Oregon feel that he has to subject his son to public humiliation to make his point?
Remember the story a few months ago about the 15-year old girl who was forced to get up in front of the whole school and announce that she was pregnant? Or the 14-year old boy whose parents forced him to stand on the street with a sign declaring that he’d receive Fs on his report card?
New research is just now confirming what most sane parents already knew: humiliating punishments actually do more harm than good. And that’s certainly the case with the newest entries into the ”it-seemed-like-a-clever-idea-at-the-time” category of parental stupidity.
Our 18-year-old son just got arrested. He’s been in trouble with the law before and never did well in school. His mother and I know he’s responsible for his own actions, but we can’t help blaming ourselves. We feel like failures as parents. Where did we go wrong and what can we do for our son?
Parenting an adolescent isn’t a particularly easy thing to do even under the rosiest of circumstances. Having a healthy, well-adjusted, top-performing, polite, well-groomed, socially conscious teen would certainly make the process more enjoyable for everyone, but what if, despite all the wonderful things you’ve done for him, he turns out the very opposite?
Q:I’m a single father and I’m finding it harder and harder to keep my kids in line. When I was married, their mother and I could back each other up. But now that I’m alone, I don’t seem to have the energy to take a stand like I know I should as their parent. What can I do to regain control?
A: At one time or another, all parents struggle with discipline–establishing and enforcing limits, and getting their kids to speak to them respectfully and do what they’re supposed to do. For single parents, though, who are already probably pretty exhausted, anything other than putting food on the table and clothes in the closet may seem like too much trouble to worry about. But this is important. So if you feel yourself becoming more lenient, stricter, or just plain inconsistent, here’s how to stop.
- Be consistent. Not only on a day-to-day basis right now, but consistent with the way you and your spouse used to do things before you became a single parent. In addition, try to work with your ex to come up with a discipline plan that’s consistent between homes and agree to back each other up on how you’ll enforce limits. If you can’t, you’ll have to be firm in telling your kids that, “in your mom’s house you follow her rules, but in this house, you’ll have to follow mine.”
- Establish and enforce reasonable limits. No child will ever admit it, but the truth is that he needs to know who’s boss and he needs that person to be you. Setting your expectations too high, though, can also be a problem, frustrating your kids and making them feel bad or inadequate when they can’t comply.
- Link consequences directly to the behavior. “I’m taking away your hammer because you hit me with it,” or “Since you didn’t get home by your curfew, you can’t go out with your friends tonight.”
- Don’t worry. Unless the limits you set are completely insane, your child will not stop loving you for enforcing them.
- Chose your battles. Some issues–those that involve health and safety, for example–are non-negotiable. Others don’t really matter. Does it really make a difference if your child wants to wear a red sock and an argyle one instead of a matched pair?
- Give limited choices. “Either you stop talking to me that way right now or go to your room.”
- Encourage your kids to be independent. “When parents do too much for children, to ‘make up’ for the fact that they have only one parent, the children don’t have a chance to develop responsibility, initiative, and new skills,” writes Jane Nelsen, co-author of Positive Discipline for Single Parents. But don’t go too far here. Your kids still need structure.
- Understand your child’s behavior. According to Nelsen, kids misbehave for one or more of the following reasons:
- they want attention
- they want to be in control
- they want to get back at you for something you did
- they’re frustrated and they just want to give up and be left alone
Trying to punish a child without understanding why she’s doing what she’s doing is a little like taking cough syrup for emphysema: the thing that’s bugging you goes away for a while, but the underlying problem remains–and keeps getting worse with time. The most direct way to solve this is to simply ask your child–in many case she’ll tell you. If she won’t tell you or doesn’t have the vocabulary to do so, make an educated guess (“Are you writing on the walls because you want me to spend more time with you?”).
I’m a divorced dad and don’t get to see my kids as much as I’d like to. I have the typical custody arrangement – every other weekend and one night a week. I miss them and I know they miss me, so I try to make it up to them by packing our time together with all sorts of really fun activities and trips. By the end of the weekend, I’m completely exhausted and stressed out. I really want to spend some quiet time with the kids, but they seem to want each visit to be more fun than the last. What can I do?
Non-custodial fathers-especially those with fairly infrequent visitation-often feel obligated to make every second of every visit with their children “count.” Sometimes they’re motivated by guilt, the fear of losing their children’s love, trying to make up for lost time, a desire to compete with the ex, or something else. But whatever it is, the result is the same: they buy their kids extravagant gifts, eat out every meal, take them on expensive trips, give into their every whim, forget about discipline, and generally treat them like visiting royalty instead of children. It’s no wonder that a lot of people refer to this kind of father as the “Disneyland Dad.”