Q:I feel stuck. My 8-year-old son will not listen to me when I ask him to help with even the simplest chore or to stop bickering with his younger brother. I have tried consequences and punishments such as time-outs, losing privileges and even spanking (gulp!). I don’t know what else I can take away in order to get his attention. How can I get my child to do what I ask?
A: Disobedience can be trying and frustrating for the most patient of parents. Let’s break your problem down into parts.
The perils of punishments. Life already doles out plenty of natural consequences. However, when parents resort to inventing a consequence — which may be just a guise for punishment — they may be “piling on.” Adding time-outs, taking away more and more privileges, and spanking may make you feel better in the moment, especially if you are angry, but these parental tactics may not ultimately help your child behave better in the future.
According to Jane Nelson, author of Positive Discipline, punishments breed resentment, cause a child to want to retaliate or to retreat from the family, and increase the likelihood that the child will rebel. Punishment does not help to build up the parent-child relationship which is the very thing that needs to be strong as your child approaches adolescence. If your son does not feel like you are his ally you will yield little influence. If a child doesn’t know how to solve his problems and ends up “miss” behaving, he will be more receptive to a parent who helps him problem-solve.
Helping our children listen. Many children get stuck when it comes to tackling chores. Sometimes the task seems too big, and they don’t know where or how to start. I encourage parents to help by using the word, “Let’s.” It’s one of those magic words. You could say, “Let’s work together cleaning up your room.” Once your child gets started with you by his side, he will be more likely to continue on his own. It may take several minutes when you first begin using this technique, but after using this approach for a few days, you more than likely will not need to stay by your son’s side for as long.
Sibling fighting. With all of the news emerging of late related to concerns around sibling bullying, I commend you for wanting to stop your boys from fighting. Many times siblings fight because they don’t know how to resolve their conflicts. I encourage you to use the conflict resolution approach suggested by High Scope Educational Research Foundation:
- Approach calmly, stopping any hurtful actions
- Acknowledge children’s feelings
- Gather information
- Restate the problem
- Ask for ideas for solutions and choose one together
- Be prepared to give follow-up support
Jennifer Watanabe is the parent coach at Youth Eastside Services (YES). She teaches Positive Discipline classes and provides individual parent coaching. As a Certified Parent Coach, she has vast experience teaching parenting classes, using research-based information on child development, temperament, discipline, and emotion management. She specializes in helping parents who are longing for a better relationship with their children and who need a more effective way to discipline. Perhaps most importantly, Jennifer understands first-hand the issues parents face in our community.
Got your own parenting questions that you’d love to have answered? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.