The golden rule for my dog and my kids is pretty much the same: “Thou shalt not embarrass me in public.” It doesn’t always work with the dog or the kids, but wheeling a little kid though a grocery store who is pitching a bloody fit because we didn’t get Pop-Tarts, or crying because he has to share a toy, or my teen storming off when I shut down the video games or wouldn’t let her go to the mall with her friends, THOSE fits are on me. I could have kept them from happening. Here is how to stop fits before they even start.
1.Set clear expectations ahead of time. You and I live life by instinct more than we know. We have old knowledge that was ingrained in us long, long ago and we live by it as easily as we drive, eat, or breathe. Sometimes we don’t realize how vague we are, communicating expectations to our kids. If you are getting frustrated and angry over and over by things your kids are doing, take a minute figure out what it is you really want and how to clearly communicate it. Sit down with your child when everyone is calm, explain things clearly, what’s in it for them and the consequences that will occur if your expectations are not met. Make the consequences things you can actually DO, not just a threat. Get them to repeat back to you what you said and allow them to tell you how they feel about it. Listen carefully. Respond. In this way, make a deal. That way, if they choose to disobey you, the consequences are on them.
2. Practice. Everyone gets better at anything with practice. Are they going to have to sit quietly for an hour? Are they going to have to say no to candy at checkout or share something they love? Make it a game, laugh, have fun, discover the help they need to do the deed, and give them life experience before they have to use it for real.
3. Choose consequences that matter to them. If your child isn’t responding to your consequences, it may be because they are willing to pay that price. What will they really care about enough to change their behavior?
4. Be consistent. Hardcore consistency with the consequences takes a couple of weeks to really start to work. This takes a lot of energy, but hold strong; eventually it will work, if you hold strong every time. Then, your life will get a lot easier, and your family will be happier.
5. Do not give into fits, no matter what. Let’s say your child asks you for something and you say “no.” For example, your child wants a cookie before dinner and you say no, but the kid really wants it. He immediately begins to figure a way to get the cookie, even if you said no. If pitching a fit works, that’s what he will do. Children do what works for them. Do not let this work under any circumstances.
6. Give them something that will work. When they whine or have a fit say: “I can’t hear whining. I only hear nice voices.” Or, for older kids, “If you pitch a fit there is no way you are getting what you want. But if you ask me nicely to reconsider, I will, and there is a chance you may get it.” Two phrases to give your kids that will work, instead of pitching a fit: “May I please ask why?” “Will you please reconsider?” I have seen children as young as two use these phrases skillfully.
7. Reconsider. If they use those phrases respectfully, really reconsider. Change your mind if you can, or if you can’t, give them an explanation. These two phrases teach your children social skills, negotiating skills, and the value of their own voice. IF you still have to say no, an explanation will teach them the why’s of a good decision, and they will need to know that to make good decisions as they grow up. All of these things equip them for adulthood. The beautiful thing is, when they feel they have been listened to and that they have communication power, it calms their little souls so that even if you say “no”, they accept it more willingly. No one likes to be bossed around without consideration.
8. What if it were you? This is cliché I know, but really, how would you feel if you were them? Thinking about this helps us respond in good ways. Respect goes both ways. You respect them and make sure they respect you.
9. Let them make as many decisions as possible. After all, making good choices is necessary for adulthood. Start them young.
10. Are they fed and watered? Half the wars in the world were probably started by dehydrated or “hangry” people, and probably half the fights in your home too.Think about the basics.
The younger your kids are when you start these things the better, but it’s never too late to start. Make sure their tummies are happy, plan ahead, communicate clear expectations and consequences, practice, consistently listen, reconsider, and hold to your boundaries. Never, ever let fits work for them. Intentionally working on these things will make for a calm and happy family.