Before I get into this post, I want to let you all know that I don’t go to the store in hopes of judging someone else’s parenting, just as I don’t go there hoping to find great examples of parenting. I go there to shop…to meet a need that I have that has nothing to do with anyone’s role as a parent. But unfortunately for me–and for those who show up as examples of what not to do in my blog posts–I can’t turn the therapist part of me off. When I see something at the store that I think can be turned into a parenting lesson–both the good and the bad–I use it.
So to the person who inspired this article, I’m sorry to have to pick on you. But I hope that from your experience can come a wealth of knowledge for other parents. And, I also hope that you learned something during your experience because if you were paying attention, you should have!
During a routine visit to the grocery store–again, with no intention of catching any parenting mistakes–I witnessed a parent’s desperate attempt to get her son to listen to her directions.
I was standing in the check out line behind the woman and her son. The mother and son were second in line, waiting for the person in front of them to pay for their groceries. Probably out of boredom, the boy began to touch something on display in the checkout line. His mom instantly stated his name in a very stern voice.
As you can probably guess, saying the child’s name in a stern voice did nothing to stop the behavior. However, this mom clearly had a backup plan in place, which I was very proud of. When the boy didn’t stop his actions when his mom spoke his name sternly, his mom reverted to her backup plan: one…two. Before his mom got to three, the child rushed from the display and stood by his mom’s side. I was impressed. Now I don’t know what would have happened at …three, but I have to believe that this boy believes it to be bad, because he did not wait to see what happened.
I smiled to myself, silently praising this mom for these excellent skills. I wanted to tell her how great she was, but I didn’t really think that this was appropriate in front of her child. I turned my attention elsewhere while still silently thanking this mom for her ability to manage her child’s behaviors. My silent praises quickly disappeared when I heard mom, once again, saying her son’s name in a stern voice. I turned around and saw the boy, once again standing near the display where–just 20 seconds prior–he had been asked to leave by the power of the one…two…!
Unfortunately, whatever fear he had at …three from before had escaped his mind as he was once again touching the things on display. I was excited at the opportunity to get to see how this counting method worked for this child. I waited and waited for this mom to start counting again. After a few seconds, I think I actually looked at her, asking with me eyes, “Well, aren’t you going to start counting again?” She must not have understood my telepathy because she didn’t start counting. Instead, she continued the useless pattern of sternly saying her son’s name, which resulted in no change in the child’s behavior. This pattern continued until their transaction was complete. Mom left the aisle fuming mad at her son, and her son was oblivious to her anger (or maybe very aware of her anger and plotting his future attempts to bring back that angry face).
This mom’s experience reminds me that as people–not just parents, but people in general–we forget to follow the plan. We keep trying to make changes to ourselves before we’ve had enough time to see how our current efforts are working out. How often do we set goals for ourselves, create an elaborate plan to accomplish these goals, only to abandon the plan before it’s completed? No matter what reason we come up with to explain why we failed (it’s too hard, I don’t think it’s going to work anyway, I’m doing all the work and that’s not fair, etc.), the real reason is that we’re putting too much energy into creating excuses and not enough energy into accomplishing our goal.
As parents, the goals that you establish for your child’s development, education and behavior are essential to your child’s success in life–or lack thereof. Instead of making excuses for why your child isn’t acting the way you’d like him to, create a realistic and manageable plan to help your child to manage these behaviors. If the plan works once, then use it again! Don’t switch to another plan if the first plan worked as you desired it to. If your plan isn’t broke, don’t fix it!
While I can’t guarantee it, I believe that if the mom in the grocery store had returned to her method of counting, she would have been as successful this time as she was the first time. This would have given her more leverage because the child is obviously afraid of whatever comes with …three.
If she wanted to change anything, she could have threatened the consequence that comes with …three if he chose to return to the display after he had been asked not to. This at least starts to teach him how to plan his behaviors, weighing the costs and benefits before he acts. If she had done this, she may have been saved from the embarrassment that it was obvious she was experiencing as she quietly, yet desperately whisper-screamed her son’s name. It would have been a win-win for her: she would have been saved the embarrassment and her son would have learned a valuable life lesson (which, by the way, is more important).