Way to Blow It #3: Dis Dad (or Vice Versa)
When Polly Lugosi and her husband, Jim, take their two kids, Zoe, 5, and Miles, 2, out for a treat, this Milwaukie, OR, couple tells them that they have to behave or they won't get it. "Unfortunately, my husband is a complete pushover and always gives them the treat even if they act up," says Polly.
A Better Way: Even though Jim doesn't mean to undermine Polly's efforts, that's exactly what he's doing. Showing a united front won't just help your child behave better, it'll also prevent you from feeling like the bad guy all the time. "If you and your husband prefer to use different punishments, that's okay -- just as long as there are consequences for the same actions," says Nancy Schulman, coauthor of Practical Wisdom for Parents: Demystifying the Preschool Years. When your child is out of earshot, create a list of rules and discuss different options, she says.
Way to Blow It #4: Bribe a Little Too Often
"My two-year-old daughter, Isabelle, has never been a great eater," says Liz Samuel, a mom in Montclair, NJ. "So I once offered her a piece of chocolate if she would just finish her lunch." The reward worked perfectly: Isabelle ate her chicken and sweet-potato fries -- but then she demanded another treat at dinnertime. "Now, whenever I want her to eat, she asks for either chocolate or a lollipop," complains the mom. "Plus, she'll eat just one fry and then expect her treat."
A Better Way: We all need to keep a good bribe up our sleeves -- to get through the grocery store, a church service, or that new episode of Mad Men you had to TiVo because you were too whipped to stay up for it. But the experts insist that reinforcing good behavior is a better way to go. "So instead of saying 'If you're good at Grandma's today, I'll buy you a toy,' try 'I'm really proud of you for sitting so nicely during dinner at Grandma's,'" advises Maslin. And don't underestimate the power of disappointment. "Saying 'I'm really sad you broke the present Daddy gave me' makes a child feel appropriately bad about his behavior," says Maslin. "You may feel like a terrible parent in the moment, but you're actually helping your child develop a conscience."
Way to Blow It #5: Break Your Own Rules
When Anne Wear's 2-year-old son, Brandon, would do things he shouldn't -- take his mom's car keys or pull books off the shelf, for example -- this High Point, NC, mom would slap his hand and say "No, sir!" in a harsh tone of voice. "It worked great," she says, "until his preschool teacher caught him slapping the hands of any child who took his toy or cut in front of him in line!" Wear quickly realized that she couldn't say it was wrong for Brandon to smack his friends' hands when she and her husband, Brian, were doing the same thing to him. "We switched to time-outs," says Wear.
A Better Way: Not only are kids little mimics, emulating your bad behaviors, but they'll call you on it, as Suzi Dougherty found out. Her 2-year-old, Will, knows that throwing toys in the house is a definite no-no. "But one day my husband, Chris, threw a dog toy into the next room, just to get it out from underfoot," says this Newburgh, NY, mom. "Will immediately ordered him into a time-out! Since then, we try to be more careful and follow our own rules," she says. "But on the plus side, at least it showed us that the 'no throwing toys' rule is starting to sink in!"