“Doing nothing” is often better than “doing something”

“I pull out my ammunition-my superior size, my position of authority-and yell or intimidate or I threaten or punish.  And I win.  I stand there, victorious, in the middle of the debris of a shattered relationship while my children are outwardly submissive and inwardly rebellious, suppressing feelings that will come out later in uglier ways” (Steven Covey,“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”).


Wow…read that again.  How often do you find yourself in this position?  

When we punish

I have mentioned this before: sometimes when we punish, we feel that it “worked” because it stopped the behavior in its tracks, affected the kid in some way (maybe he got upset, maybe she cried), and maybe resulted in an apology (“I’m sorry I kicked the dog, mommy,” “I’m sorry I slammed the door, daddy”).  Sometimes we feel bad, sometimes we actually apologize to our kids (as we should) when we react too impulsively and more based on our emotional state than the actual behavior that was exhibited.

With this, I have warned that the true sign of punishment “working” is the overall reduction of the behavior in the future AND the absence of any side effects.  The range of side effects of punishers are too many to list here, and, unfortunately, are often not realized until much later after the punishers have been used.   Be careful.


Specifically, for this conversation, I am talking mostly about when parents punish in some context of the child being “disrespectful,” “oppositional,” or “downright rude.”  It might be language, it might be interesting noises, or talking back to you.  Recently, our son realized that if you put a little more ummph into the word “NO,” that it takes on a new meaning.  This is the type of stuff I am talking about here.

I have to do something!

So many parents continue to inappropriately punish kids because the feel “something has to be done” or “I can’t just let him get away with that!” “She canNOT talk to me like that!”

Sad really.  What this communicates to me is,

“I have a feeling this is not the right thing to do, but I had to do something to let him know that was NOT OK.”  

Usually that “something” ranges from a harsh voice, a talk about “you cannot talk to me like that, I am your MOTHER” (usually accompanied by the old finger pointed towards their nose), removal of privileges or a swift one on the rear end.  But, we often know it isn’t the right thing to do.

Many times, doing “nothing” is the best “something”

There are many times when parents look at me like I have 3 eyes when I tell them, “don’t do a thing” when they ask, “what should I do when he does that?” My point is the conflict that follows usually does two things: reinforces the “disrespect” by piling a bunch of attention on it and creates more opportunities for the parent and child to continue to be “disrespectful” to each other.

Oh, yeah…there is a third thing:

Your kid will likely grow more argumentative and your relationship will suck.  I knew there was a third thing.

 Stop it…it takes 2 people to argue.  If you stop, the argument automatically stops.  


If your kid follows you when you are trying to walk away, you know your “doing nothing” is the right “something” to do.  You are taking away the attention and the conflict and your kid is trying to re-establish it.  Tell him you will talk when he has been calm for a while and move on.  Go read a book, watch Dr. Phil, check your Facebook.  You probably need to chill too.

“So, you just want me to take that?”

Nope, I want you to stop feeding the beast.  Doing nothing in these moments is actually doing something…not attending to the ridiculousness.

If this truly is a problem in your home, you will need to set up a way to respond to the behavior without responding to the kid.  I will explain that next time.  Until then, be mindful of the harm your “punishers” might be causing…  

…and catch up on some reading too: 

Putting the power on your side: a lesson in how to respond in advance to these behaviors.

Make up your mind about access to privileges: a lesson about access to privileges

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