Dealing With Defiance
Expand the consequences
The lesson that you don't forget bad behavior can pack a wallop. And having a way to punish that behavior without raining on a larger group's parade can come in handy. A mom of eight in Alaska has lots of experience with discipline, but sometimes even she has to get creative. Once, when her son was acting up at a party, she told him he'd have to miss the next party he was invited to. But first she took a photo of him in mid-naughtiness. Then, two weeks later when he was asked to another party, she brought out the picture and reminded him of why he couldn't go. This made it immediate to a child who might otherwise have relegated the episode to long-ago history. At the next birthday party he attended, he was on his best behavior. "These things happen," she says, "but mostly it happens only once or twice per child because I make sure -- and they know -- that they'll face the consequences later."
Mary Rees, a mom of two in Albany, California, tried several tactics before she hit on the one that got the desired reaction when her 5-year-old, Joey, used to refuse to leave the park. "I told him that next time we came to the park, we'd have to leave fifteen minutes earlier than normal because he hadn't listened to me when I said it was time to go," she says.
If he did as he was told next time, she told him, the park date after that would last the full hour. That may seem complicated, but Rees enlisted the help of other moms she knew in the park to hammer this idea home. The next park playdate, one of these moms told Joey, "It's sad you have to leave so early today, Joey, but we hope you can stay longer next week."
Rees thinks the reactions and reinforcement that Joey got from the other moms were the key to the technique's success. "The issue became less of a power struggle between parent and child and more of a community ethos, a 'this is what we do' message."
Currently in vogue is the notion of letting the child know that you understand how he feels. "I know how frustrated you are. I wish we could stay at the park all day, too, but ¿" This works for some kids, but less well for others. "Empathy worked with my oldest son, Nick -- that was all it took to restore him to sanity," says Mollie Hart, a mom of two boys, in Berkeley, California. "But George, who's 5, is a different animal. So I combine empathy with action. I scoop him up and walk out, and he's flailing around, but I try to keep my cool and keep talking to him: 'Oh, I know you had a good time, and wouldn't it be great if we could just stay all day,' and so on. Believe it or not, it does work -- it calms him down, and he seems to absorb the message."
Empathy is a good choice when you suspect something besides outright defiance is causing the problem. Once, my daughter Annie had the mother of all meltdowns in a store because she wanted stickers I wouldn't buy her. I was about to pick her up and carry her to the car when I realized: She hadn't eaten lunch yet, and there was a brand-new baby brother at home getting all the attention. I took a deep breath and let go of the stickers. I said kindly, "You must be starving. I get really mad when I'm hungry, too. Let's go get a hamburger. And then we'll go home and you can show me your sticker book, because I think you have some of these stickers in there already. Can you show me?" She calmed down, I lured her outside, got some food into her, and gave her some much-needed extra mom attention.