Friday, August 24, 2007

Weak-Willed Parents = Strong-Willed Child

I saw a recommendation on Instapundit for these books on raising strong-willed children. And it occurs to me that one of the problems with a lot of parents today is not that their kids are particularly strong-willed, it’s that the parents are exceedingly weak-willed. To a parent afraid to discipline their child, they all seem strong-willed.

Let me explain: it’s not uncommon for me to be out somewhere with my children (be it birthday party, school function, extracurricular activity, whatever) and one kid to absolutely go wild. I’m not talking about a specific one, just saying that usually one of my children’s social group will be wild at a function. That’s normal when you get 20 or so kids together; sometimes it’s my kid going off the rails. What’s sadly typical is also that the parent is completely unable to stop the behavior. Oh, sure, they issue warnings and sigh and whine, and then eventually they’ll say to the other parents “he’s so strong-willed. I just don’t know what to do!”

I want to scream at them: “Your kid isn’t strong, you’re weak! What are you still doing here? Drag the little bastard home and let him chill his heels for about twenty minutes and miss the rest of the party. Maybe he’ll behave a little better next time!”

Both of my children have had this experience with me, and they both cried and cried and cried. And you know what? When I tell them to knock it off or we go home, they knock it off. Because it’s not a threat when they know you’ll do it; it’s simply information that they can use to make decisions.

True story: at a T-Ball game when my daughter was 5 one of the boys was acting up. Nothing serious, but it was continually escalating: first horsing around with his friends, then mouthing off at everybody, then throwing balls at other kids, and finally throwing rocks at adults.

Well, after his mom gave him his tenth warning (something along the lines of “do I have to take you home?”), when she turns around he spits on her. Right on her back, the cowardly little bastard.

I told her “your boy just spit on you.” I figured she’d want to know.

So what does she do? She turns back and says, “that was really rude! Why did you do that?” When he stares sullenly at her, she says “I’m really disappointed in you. Do I have to take you home?” Then she turns and walks away.

After that I wanted to spit at her. Idiot! Take him home and spank him until your hand hurts! Put him in time out for four hours! Make him clean the gutters! Whatever discipline fits your style, but for heaven’s sakes do something! You kid just spit on you! It’s the ultimate sign of disrespect!

Fortunately, I used the opportunity as a teachable moment with my daughter. She’d seen the whole thing; when I asked her what would happen to her if she ever did something like that, she said this:

“You would punish me.”

“How would I punish you?” I asked.

“Severely.” She replied.

Voila the secret of dealing with children.