Letting your child “get away with it”

photo by Michael Bentley via Flickr

photo by Michael Bentley via Flickr

Probably the most frequent question I get from parents usually ends with “I can’t just let her get away with it, can I?”

This is a hard question to answer without looking deeper into the situation each of these parents is facing, so I want to take a second to go over what I really mean when I tell them…”well, it depends on what she is getting away with.”

Each behavior has a function:

…a reason it continues to occur under specific circumstances. We eat when we are hungry because it tastes good, feels good and relieves us of the feelings of hunger. We scratch our backs because it relieves us of the itching feeling (at least temporarily). We tell jokes because it makes other people laugh and brings attention to ourselves (hopefully for the right reasons). Each time these things occur and we are relieved of undesirable things and feelings or gain preferred things and feelings, we are more likely to behave in that same manner again…agreed?

So when we look at the behavior of our children, it is no different. It can actually be much less complex because their social behaviors are not as refined yet (they will do things we won’t do because social graces have not quite filled in all the necessary holes yet, which is why you cannot believe he called your mother-in-law a “witch” to her face).

So, what is it? What do you think fuels the behavior you are worried about? What is making it “work.”

Is it getting out of something she does not want to do? Is it getting a rise/shock/gasp/laugh out of you? Is it keeping something you said you were going to take away (picture yourself saying, “FINE!” and walking away from your child still playing Nintendo).

The good news is a lot of the time, the “fuel” is going to be something over which you have control: your attention, your reaction, or access to desirable things. So, by walking away, not engaging in the conversation, not arguing or telling your child how “rude” or “ridiculous” (my favorite word to use when I’m frustrated) she is being, you are NOT letting your child “get away” with anything. More good news for you! You are actually taking the fuel away from the fire by doing nothing.

How do you know? You’ll know if you walk away and your child is still saying rude things as you walk away, yells louder, makes more noise, or continues to threaten you. She is trying to get what you are not giving…the fuel. If you have ever said something like, “she has to get the last word in…” this is probably the case for you.

In the other situations, the fuel for the fire is probably escaping from something undesirable (taking a bath, doing the dishes, cleaning up). In this case, you can either follow through by making sure she does not escape it (warning: this can be tough and can backfire on you) or back away and withhold other preferred activities until that chore/demand is completed or met. I have written plenty on this, so read more about that if you want to know.

The main point with this is: it is probably not going to do you much good to continue to berate or persuade your child to do the chore at that time because you are likely extending the period of time she is not doing the chore by talking to her, and you will likely break down and make it easier and do it with her in the long run. In both cases your child is still getting loads of attention from you, which you probably would rather dole out at more happy times.

When you think your child is “getting away” with something, think about what they are actually “getting away” with, and what you can do to control it. They might not be “getting away” with anything if you just walk away. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best “something” you can do.

Make sense? Let me know what you think…share it on Facebook so we can get a conversation going!

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