My son loves the movies Gremlins and Gremlins Two. Yes, he is only three. Unfortunately, both Daddy and I’s recollection of the movies was that they were okay (we both watched them as children) and it wasn’t until after that we had let him watch them that we had an oops moment. In any case, it has actually helped me as a parent because the movie helped lay a foundation about following rules, and helped me to build the relationship with my son rather than being the evil enforcer.
Sawyer had only seen the movie once (now dozens of times) when he started reciting “the rules”. Everyone knows the rules, and you have to follow them or your cute fuzzy mogwai turns into a crazy scary gremlin (does sound a bit like parenting a toddler doesn’t it?) No one enforces the rules because breaking them has their own natural consequences as highlighted in the movies.
Seeing that he really took a liking to the movie I quickly adopted this approach. Backing up a bit let me explain that I believe setting limits and then enforcing them through punishment it not good for children. Just a few of the reasons I try to avoid punishment are:
- It breaks down the bond you work so hard developing with your kids because they project their anger on to you.
- It teaches them they can push you and get away with things until the point of punishment because that’s really how they know they did something wrong.
- It teaches them to lie to avoid punishment (or getting caught).
- They don’t learn how to do what’s morally right they just do what will avoid punishment whether it’s right or wrong.
I do, however have limits. I believe in setting limits and we do have rules in the house, for instance you cannot hit your sisters or you cannot scream at the top of your lungs late at night (we live in a townhouse with somewhat thin walls). But rather than punishing him for his indiscretions I have actually been able to help him through whatever it is that is ultimately causing his behaviour by empathizing with him instead.
By acting like the house rules are “universals” like in Gremlins, I am not the judge, jury and executioner. These are simply the “house rules” and I am on his side. For example:
Last night around 9pm Sawyer was probably tired (and possibly delaying bed time) and he told me he was hungry.
I reminded him that it was almost time for bed, but if he liked he could choose between a banana or a yoghurt (I always like to offer choices whenever I can).
He said he wanted potato chips.
I told him that I was sorry but they were not a choice.
He started yelling and screaming that he wanted chips.
Instead of getting mad or sending him for a time out, I took his side. “I totally understand. I love potato chips too and I wish we could eat them all the time, but unfortunately they are not good for you if you eat too many and they will make your tummy upset if you eat them before bed. You don’t want an upset tummy do you? How about we have some potato chips another day when it’s not so close to bedtime?”
While he was still upset and almost on the verge of tears he suddenly relented. “They are unhealthy? he questioned. “Why are they unhealthy mommy?” And so the crisis was averted.
What I did is subtle but acting like the rules are THE RULES, that we both follow, and not MY RULES set for him it has really helped build a bond with him. I have noticed a change in the way he acts with me, looking to me like his “coach” and not an iron fisted parent. He knows that I am on his side, which is true since I am only looking out for his well-being when I make those unpleasant decisions like no chips.
I guess there are a few things I learned here. One is that while you can read lots of parenting books and have all the knowledge in the world, actually putting it into practice is often much more difficult. And two, when life throws you a bone, no matter how unusual, you grab it.
Training dogs we teach people to “capture” the behaviour you want. For example, a dog sits for no reason at all of his own free will and you capture that by praising him for sitting, laying the foundation for him to sit on command. I am not saying that dogs and kids are the same, but it only makes sense that if you find something your child has an interest in or relates to why not take advantage of it.
Oh, and I am definitely not saying you should go and let your three-year old watch Gremlins! Thanks for reading 🙂
- If you want to be a good parent be a coach
- How to raise kids that are not praise junkies
- The lost art of listening