You know the drill: You give your child an ultimatum -- "Get dressed or we're staying home!" -- and naturally she says, "Okay, we'll stay home!" Might as well plant a big "L" on your forehead. We all see our discipline efforts backfire on occasion (hey, you're tired!), and of course there are those battles just not worth fighting (no kid ever flunked preschool because his teeth were furry). But you do need to prove you're the parent at least some of the time. Learning to avoid these discipline land mines can help you hop to it.
Way to Blow It #1: Tell a Big Ole Lie
"My two-year-old daughter, Chloe, fights me about going to her babysitter's house every Monday," says New Jersey mom Gina Kane. One morning when Chloe refused to get out of the car, "I pointed to the house next door and told her it was a daycare center run by the caveman from the Geico commercials, which really scare her," says Kane. "I said she had a choice: Go to the sitter's house or to the caveman's daycare." Mission accomplished -- Chloe dashed to the sitter's door. Fast-forward a week: The babysitter casually asked Kane if she knew of a daycare center in the neighborhood because her daughter couldn't stop talking about it. "I was mortified having to explain, and Chloe now thinks that all daycare centers are run by cavemen," Kane admits. "I'm in big trouble if I ever actually have to send her to daycare."
A Better Way: Little white lies are so tempting in a pinch. You might even get away with them sometimes. Another mom had a great run while her toddler was afraid of a local clown named Macaroni. Whenever he refused to cooperate, she'd just say, "Maybe we should get Macaroni!" and the little guy would immediately don his pj's or gobble his carrots. But as Kane found out, scare tactics can and do come back to bite you in the butt, so it's best to be honest, says Bonnie Maslin, author of Picking Your Battles. Kane could have said instead, "I know sometimes you don't want to go to your babysitter. Sometimes I don't want to go to work." Empathizing would have made the Monday-morning transition easier.
Way to Blow It #2: Back Down
You want a surefire way to make sure your kids never listen to you? Threaten but don't act. My daughter Ella and I recently went for a playdate at a friend's house, where the little girl kept snatching away whatever toy Ella picked up. Her mom would say, "Give that back to Ella or I'll take it away," and then turn back to our conversation. Of course, as soon as Ella moved on to another toy, the little girl wanted that one.
A Better Way: It's no fun to be the bad guy, but if a child acts out, there has to be a consequence. "Repeatedly saying 'If you don't stop throwing sand, I'm going to make you leave the sandbox' won't stop the bad behavior," says Bridget Barnes, coauthor of Common Sense Parenting for Toddlers and Preschoolers. "What your child hears is 'I can keep doing this a few more times before Mom makes me stop.'"
Instead, give a warning, and then, if your child does it again, give an immediate consequence such as a time-out. If he continues, leave. The next time, a gentle reminder should do the trick: "Remember how we had to leave when you threw the sand? I hope we don't have to go home early again today."