It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Deconstruction

In a previous post, I discussed the widely-held parenting myth that “children behave better for others than for their parents.”

I noted that it was important to distinguish between “stranger” — for whom kids generally will behave better, at least until a certain age — and “others”, anyone else, no matter how familiar. I stated my belief that a child’s better behaviour for a familiar other person is nothing magical or mystical — it has to do with something the parents are/aren’t doing. If the parent and the other person were consistently doing the same thing in the same way, they’d get the same response from the child.

I gave you an example, and asked you to deconstruct it. You did very well! Yes, the issue was that the mother didn’t follow through.

She called the child to her. The child paused. At this point, mom could have gone to get her, but what she actually did — Calling a second time, to see if she’ll come — was reasonable parenting.

The critical point, the crux of the matter, was what mom did when the child SMILED AND TURNED AWAY. No matter how cute and charming the little girl was at that moment (and she WAS, the little devil), that’s deliberate, conscious defiance, people, and needs to be dealt with instantly. At first glance of that smile, mama should have marched over, taken the child’s hand, and explained the situation: “When mama says ‘come over here’, you need to come.”

Clear and effective.

If that happens every single time this direction is issued, the child will be coming, reliably, within a couple of months. (Depends on the child, of course. But by 21 – 30 months, sometimes earlier, you can expect to be heeded with reliable consistency.)

And the problem of running away, which some of you rightly noted might be the child’s response when she sees mama bearing down on her? I say that’s precisely why you need to nail this behaviour now. There is nothing more humiliating than chasing a laughing child when it’s not a game. And talk about undermining your parental authority! Ugh.

There are a couple of ways of dealing with this behaviour, and which you choose will depend on the personality of the child involved. However, not wanting this post to get unduly long, I’ll put them into another post.

Do children automatically behave better for other familiar people than their parents? No. My three (happily secure) children almost always behaved as well for me than for others. Sometimes even better, because my expectations were often higher. My five step-children behaved just as well for their parents as for anyone else they knew. (And even reasonably well for me, the step-mother, though not as well as for their dad. The difference there had to do with how I behaved and certain other political factors that we don’t need to get into here…)

Mamadragon says it well. With toddlers, it’s Tell, Show, Do.

Tell them what you want. “Come here.”
Show them. The mother could have beckoned and pointed to the ground beside her.
Do. See that the requirement happens. Go get the child.

And I would add another “Tell” at the end, when you explain the expectation. “When I say come, you come.”

Do this, and your child will behave as well for you as for anyone else.

Really.

August 8, 2008 Posted by | parenting, power struggle | , , , | 10 Comments