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Be firm and consistent

August 2, 2011 - Betsy Bethel
As a parent, I have adopted a new motto that, granted, I should have adopted a long time ago: Be firm and consistent. It's kind of a takeoff on God's advice to Joshua in the Bible to "be strong and courageous." I need all four of these attributes, actually. It takes strength and courage, after all, to be firm and consistent.

It's easier said than done. No one wants to deny a child the one thing she wants so badly at that moment, whether it's an ice cream cone, a trip to the pool or a new tech toy. It is so much easier to give in! Sometimes I feel my heart is being squished when I've said no to something, perhaps too quickly, and she starts to plead and bargain with me to change my mind. Whether I want to change my mind or not is irrelevant; I have discovered that the hard way. I have to stick to my first decision or she will always think she can whine her way into getting what she wants.

The other day, for example, I told Emma she could have a Kit Kat, but she dawdled too long getting to the car. I counted ... slowly ... and informed her after saying "2" that she would lose the Kit Kat if she didn't come before "3." She didn't, and I endured tears and pleas and eventually anger on the 20-minute drive home because no Kit Kat was forthcoming. When she discovered crying was getting her nowhere, she declared her hatred for me and then gave me two choices: Throw myself into a dumpster or give her a Kit Kat. Inside I was laughing, but outwardly I maintained my cool. That kind of talk is funny to tell your husband in private later, but it can't be tolerated.

I actually wanted to give her the Kit Kat because I felt like I was being too hard on her just for dawdling. But I also have been working hard at this "firm and consistent" thing. And it has been working. So because I had told her to come and she ignored me, and then she also ignored my warning, I had to follow through.

There are other times, of course, when I don't feel a bit guilty for disciplining her. After the dumpster comment, for example, I warned her not to be disrespectful. She said it again, so she now had to go to her room when we got home. That didn't hurt a bit.

You also have to know when changing your mind actually is in order. After I declared she'd be going to her room, she responded smugly that she would just play in her room (the unspoken words were: So there!). As a result, I promptly changed the location of her timeout to the stairs.

And do you know ... she actually agreed that would be better.

I grudgingly admit I have always half-questioned in my heart what the parenting experts say about the whole idea that kids crave boundaries and like to be told what to do because it lets them know you care. But when I see how Emma responds (after the heat of the moment passes) when my husband and I are firm and consistent with our expectations, the truth is obvious.

I also have grasped — a bit late — that anger and frustration have absolutely no place in meting out discipline. "Never let them see you sweat," the saying goes, and it's true. Once you cave to your own emotions that are wrought by your child's behavior, the child has "won" -- which means he really has lost. I have had to discipline myself to remain calm during Emma's outbursts. I always used to either yell in anger, cry, throw something or leave the room in frustration. While leaving the scene obviously is a better option than lashing out with words or physical action, I now feel even doing that shows a chink in my armor.

Being firm and consistent, as I said, is paying off. While whining and deliberate disobedience have not disappeared altogether from our household, the instances are fewer and farther between. And I continue to pray for the strength and courage to be the kind of parent Emma needs me to be.


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