Softies in Southfield

  • Posted on July 24, 2016 at 2:15 pm

Dear Christine, 

I read your articles all the time and enjoy them.  They seem to be mostly about relationship issues but I have a question about parenting.  My partner and I have two children, a boy and a girl we had through a very good friend who was a surrogate for us.  The kids know her and know she is their biological mother.  That’s the background, here’s the question.  It’s about discipline.  The kids are at the pre-teen age and are starting to have typical issues of talking back and rebelling.  Our attempts at punishment generally include taking away their cell phones, grounding or not letting them do something they had planned.  The problem is, we are both too soft and usually give in.  I believe this is making the issues worse and the kids now can get away with just about anything.  So my question is, were we on the right track with the methods of punishment and how can we turn this around so the kids know we mean it and they might learn something?  

Thanks, Softies in Southfield

P.S. Although my partner and I do all the parenting, their biological mother is more like a close aunt and she often takes them if my partner and I take a weekend trip. She doesn’t try to discipline them but is strongly urging us to get this under control as they are acting up for her now too.

Dear Softies,

Thanks for a question in a different direction.  Parenting is not easy.  Each child is unique and has differing needs from the next and they don’t come with an instruction book!  Kids need boundaries to know that you are paying attention to them.  Though they push those limits, they are looking for and expecting you to have them!  To have no limits may feel great to them now, but by the time they are 30, they’ll be my clients, complaining that their parents didn’t really care what they did or whether or not they achieved anything in life.

Scanning through FaceBook this afternoon, before I saw your question, I watched a couple of news stories that were on this topic!  The first one was about a mom who punished her teenage sons for doing nothing all day, infuriating her.  She and her husband work hard to keep the family running, so she wanted to teach them about a good work ethic.  Her punishment:  Go outside in the heat and cut two neighbors’ grass.  A few hours and 8 neighbors’ lawns later her son returned, grinning!  He loved it!  Since then, he’s gotten his brother and cousin involved and they provide free lawn services all over the city.

The second story is about a mom who put her daughter’s truck on Craigslist to sell because the teen decided to skip school, knowing that losing the truck would be the consequence.  The mom started the ad by calling herself “the world’s meanest mom” and recalls that she was rude and mean to her own mother when she was a teen.  Now she understands that teens need rules and consequences now, rather than create bigger problems with other people in the adult world.  She received 400 responses to her ad, and half of them were other parents, encouraging her.

Teens need parents who present a united front, not one playing “good cop” and the other as “bad cop.”  If there are other parents involved (step parents, aunts, biological or adoptive) it is important that all of you be on the same page about how, when and where to discipline your kids.  I recommend family meetings, with all parents and kids.  Discuss what behaviors are a problem and why.  Then ask the kids what sort of consequences they think would be appropriate for a violation.  Most of the time, the children will pick a more drastic punishment than you would.  Then you can negotiate with them.  Maybe not losing their phone for a week, but instead for a hour for a first infraction, and for further infractions, perhaps having some other consequence.

You cannot control anyone else’s behavior, ever.  But you can “shape” it by offering rewards for good behavior, self-control and cooperation.  You can deter them from selfish, mean or insensitive  behavior by having consequences that are decided together.  These must be things that matter to the kids, which is why you need their help in identifying what motivates them. Post them somewhere like the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror or closet door.  Make sure each child understands what consequences follow a first, second and third infraction.  Then follow through with the consequences.  If you have a list that the kids have contributed to, then you have what everyone considers fair punishments.  There’s no yelling, there’s no overreacting, there’s no drama.

If you have a child that gets into trouble all the time, you could also use a positive reward system to help them get out of a corner of back talk that they just can’t stop.  Have a list of chores they can do to earn their way back into good graces.  Say that a major infraction is smoking and lying about it.  The major consequence might be not being able to go to a party or sporting event with friends.  But, if the child vacuums, cleans the bathroom and cuts the lawn, they can earn back the privilege of attending the cherished event.  This can be helpful when a normal consequence might preclude getting that once in a life time opportunity, like attending prom.

There are websites and books of resources that I’d recommend.  Locally, check out The Self Esteem Shop.   The staff knows their resources and if they don’t have a book, they will get it for you.

My clients have used Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) programs and appreciated learning the same language and tools of parenting presented.  Love and Logic is another program of books and DVDs that many of my clients have found helpful.  A further resource is the Center for Parenting Education, which has a pretty comprehensive list of books on parenting all ages.

Good luck to you.  And write me back about how it’s going.

Christine Cantrell, PhD


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