“Don’t point that at me! Do you want to make me take you out of this store?”


I was recently walking down the hall with a group of younger elementary school students and their teachers.  One of the kids (the one I was there for) was a bit “wiggly” in line and was not following the directions to “keep your hands at your side” and a “bubble in your mouth” (funny way to keep the mouth closed, which is to blow up your mouth like a balloon)—see this for why this works.

One of the teachers then went up to him and said, “do you want me to put my hand on your shoulder?” in a tone that made me think she was saying that as a threat of punishment.  Kind of like, “do you want to go to time out?” or “do you want me to call your mother?” 

The kid looked up and said, “yes.”  Whoops.  They walked down the hall together…one happy, one frustrated (I’ll let you decide who was who).

This makes me think of at least 2 things:

  1. We often ask questions that are not really questions, but threats-sometimes baseless or veiled threats.
  2. We often assume some things are punishers or things the kid wants to avoid, but sometimes they are not (it was clear the kid actually did want the teacher to put her hand on his shoulder).

Please be careful and listen out for these questions.  Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want the answer or the answer is already obvious. 

Do you really want to know if your kid wants you to count to 3?  Does it really matter what your kid’s answer is to your question, “do you want a spanking?” 

“Actually, mother, I do believe that my behavior warrants a time out and possibly a spanking…I agree with you…I just wish you would have asked me if I wanted you to count to 3 before”  

CLARIFICATION:  I have heard kids say “YES!” to this question, but in a harsher tone like, “I don’t care…take away my Wii…I don’t care.”  At this point you are in a tug-of-war and you need to drop the rope.  You should not have asked the question in the first place.  Please don’t get into this.  If you want to take away the Wii, take it.  Don’t ask for permission from your child first.  

Be careful to understand what might be punishing (something that actually reduces the occurrence of future behavior, by definition) and what might be reinforcing (increasing future occurrence of the behavior, by definition).  The student in the example above was able to gain access to a personal escort (and the attention associated with that) by jumping around in the line.  Her presence was NOT a punisher.  Sometimes your reactions (although potentially strong and intended to be punishing) can be desired by the kid. 

Ever heard of people “pushing your buttons?”  It happens, and 3 year olds are completely capable of doing it (just in case you haven’t noticed).

Let me know what you think!…”do you want me to have to ask you again?!? Huh?!?”

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