“If you do that one more time…”

February 5, 2013

Tips From Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting

By: Noël Janis-Norton
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Macaroni Kid Reader Asks:
Some things that used to work to get our four-year-old to behave don’t really have much effect any more. It used to be that we could say, “If you do that one more time, you’ll get a time out” and she would stop, but that’s becoming more rare now. Is this just her age?

Noël Janis-Norton

It’s not really about her age. There are a lot of things that we do as parents to try to get our kids to cooperate – whether it’s to get them to stop doing something wrong or just to get them to transition to something they need to start doing. Some strategies we might use include reasoning, reminding, negotiating, yelling, distracting, or threatening a consequence, as you’ve mentioned.

In the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting seminars that I lead, when I ask parents if these strategies are working, the answer is almost always ‘no’ or ‘sometimes’. It’s true that these strategies generally do work sometimes, but no parent wants to have to threaten their child into cooperating all throughout the day, so it’s important to have strategies that are far more effective – and positive.

Let’s also dive a little deeper into what happens when we threaten a consequence like, “If you do that one more time, you’ll get a time out.” For your child, this is a bit confusing. She’s already done something wrong and has only received a threat. In her mind, she is able to get away with this misbehavior, even if it’s only once. In a lot of families these warnings or threats aren’t said only once. You’ve probably been at the park when a parent has warned their child, “If you throw sand again, we’ll have to leave the park.” Yet their child does do it again only to hear, “Ok, this is the last warning.” Then the child does it again and the parent says, “I mean it!” From that child’s standpoint, the parent doesn’t have to be taken seriously because he/she isn’t following through on the instructions. They are empty threats.

What’s far more effective, and I can even promise you that it will work 90% of the time if you do it consistently, is to prepare ahead using a strategy I teach called a ‘think-through’. We want to set our children up to succeed – to do things right – instead of waiting until things go wrong and then reacting with annoyance or threatening consequences. This means that we need to think about what’s gone wrong in the past, anticipating what might go wrong in the future, and then be willing to do something different so that things are more likely to go right the next time. This is where a think-through comes in.

Let’s take the example of a child throwing sand at the park. It’s quite likely that this is something that has happened in the past. So long before you go to the park, at a completely neutral time of day when nobody is feeling rushed or annoyed, do a think-through with your child. In this think-through you would first clarify what your rules are for playing in the sand at the park and then ask your child to tell you the rule and answer a few questions about it:

Parent: When you’re at the park and you’re playing in the sand, the sand has to stay low. What’s our rule about where the sand has to stay?
Child: It stays low.
Parent:  That’s the right answer. And sometimes you might really feel like throwing it up in the air but where does it have to stay?
Child:  Low.
Parent: You know the right thing to do. So how can you dig and still keep the sand low?
Child: Keep my arm down?
Parent: Great idea! That will help keep the sand low. And you may not always remember. What do you think will happen if you do throw sand?
Child:  You’ll ask me to stop?
Parent: No, honey. I won’t ask you to stop or give you a warning. I used to, but not anymore. We’ll leave the park immediately. So what will happen if you throw sand?
Child: We’ll leave the park.
Parent: That’s exactly right. You know a lot about this rule.

As your child answers your think-through questions, she actually gets a visual mental image of herself doing it right. This has a positive impact on her memory and will maximize the likelihood of her doing the right thing the next time she’s at the park.

One of the delightful benefits of preparing your child for success in this way is that the more you focus on preventing misbehavior, the fewer behavior problems you’ll be faced with and the fewer consequences you’ll need to give! Family life becomes calmer, easier and happier.

For parenting tips, follow the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Blog, get more tips from Noël on Twitter @calmerparenting and to sign-up for our newsletter, email [email protected]


1) Cinda said:
I am going to try this. I have a very strong willed 4 yr old. She has been through a lot but has improved greatly. I don't like the yelling and time outs and frankly neither work very well. Both always lead to more fighting and yelling.
1 year, 5 months ago
2) Lisa Nageer said:
I have a very tenacious soon to be 5 year old. When he wants something, there's no stopping him. I like the think-through, it redirects what he'll ultimately want. Only problem is sometimes throwing that sand is worth having to leave the park. He's maturing and were starting to see it in his choices (good or bad choices). Thank you for the suggestion!
1 year, 5 months ago
3) Karen D said:
Thanks for the tip. I have twin 4 year old boys and can definitely relate to this. Will try this strategy with them.
1 year, 5 months ago
4) Mama Carmody said:
I believe the most important thing to take from this article is to keep your "promise" and stay consistent. Sometimes it's not easy when you (as the parent) would really like to sit in the sun and enjoy the outdoors a little while longer but if you "promised" your child that we would go home if they throw sand, then when they throw sand, get up and go. Children learn very quickly if you have a breaking point and what it is.
1 year, 5 months ago
5) Jenn said:
I agree with the strategy mentioned. I would also like parents to understand that, from a textbook perspective on development, children of this age are moving through a stage where power play is a way of testing limits and becoming autonomous in word and deed. Children are wanting to take an active role in controlling themselves. Empowering children by providing tools - such as the think-through strategy - and providing choices in which the child is taking responsibility will help the child learn to govern him/herself, and control his/her actions. However, always remember it is important to realize the child's developmental stage when combatting issues of power play. I have no association with this website, but one page with incredible, reliable information that will help parents further understand this issue would be - http://www.earlychildhoodne...
1 year, 4 months ago
6) Jenn said:
I also would like to agree that consistency is the important key to any strategy working. Without consistency, our children learn that there are not any real limits or rules. We cannot expect our children to obey the rules, if we never hold them to it. Please, be consistent and true to your word.
1 year, 4 months ago

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