Man oh man, I used to be a clueless dad. Not bad, just... clumsy. My son’s turning 13 in 6 weeks, but when he was 4, and I was a newly single dad, I had no idea what to do.
I didn’t know how to say “no” and have it stick. I would freeze if he freaked out. I felt totally adrift with no real direction to my parenting at all. I had no clue how to discipline him. So I looked around for some help, and got my son and I into this new style of therapy for kids and parents, which turned into a pivotal experience in my life as a father. It was more like “Parenting 101” than therapy. A sort of trade school for parents.
The therapist and his assistant had a room set up with a one way mirror that was full of toys, and I was given an earbud so that I could hear them talk to me from behind the mirror.
They would coach me through a “play session”, giving instructions on how they wanted things to flow- feeding me “lines” through my earpiece, which would eventually lead to the inevitable “No, Dada. I wanna play with this!”. It seems we have reached endgame, Mr. Bond.
The clueless me would have said something like this-
“Well, you can’t right now because... (it’s bath time, we’re going out, it’s time to get dressed, dinner’s ready, it’s bedtime... you get the picture).... so let’s get going.”
Which of course didn’t work. What kid is going to stop playing because it’s bath time (or whatever it is that needs to happen)? Well? The answer is “none more” kids*. Why? Because it’s adult logic, that’s why.
*If you don’t know “Spinal Tap”, then I am sad for you....
As adults, we already understand that there will be consequences to our actions. We have learned this over time. It’s not something that we’re born with, so talking to my son from this perspective got f-all in the results department, no big surprises there. Right? So, what do you do?
You use THE BEST PARENTING ADVICE EVER..... GIVE YOUR CHILD 2 CHOICES- COOPERATE OR DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES. That’s it. Two little choices for parental sanity- that’s what they taught me in “Parenting 101”, and I will be forever indebted to them. It was the key that unlocked the door.
Think about it. Life’s about making choices. Work hard or slack off. Eat healthy or crap food. Read or watch TV. Exercise or sit around. Be a good parent or not. Blah, blah, blah, you know what I’m saying. Hopefully we make good choices, which is what this technique is all about- teaching your kid to make good choices.
The sessions went something like this:
Me: Ok, Duncan, it’s time to stop playing with the Legos now. Let’s clean up because we have to leave soon. We can play with the fire ruck for a bit after we’re done putting the Legos away.
Daddy’s little Satan: No, Dada! I wanna play more Legos!
Me: We can play some more next time, Pal. Right now it’s time to clean up, please. Here, let’s clean up together, so we can play with the firetruck!
Daddy’s little Satan: No, Dada! I’m playing Legos!
Me: Are you sure you don’t want to help me clean up? The firetrucks really fun...
Daddy’s little Satan: No!
Me: Well, ok then, Pal, you’ve got two choices. You can help me clean up the Legos, or go to the “time out” chair. If you help clean up the Legos, then we can play with the firetruck! [Big, excited, happy good-choice face!] But if you don’t help clean up, then you have to sit in the “time out” chair and have no firetruck. [Downcast bad-choice face]
Every time he “chose” not to cooperate, he would sit in the chair. I would ask him if he knew why he was having a “time out”, and when he would answer correctly, the therapist would have me say something like-
“That’s right, Pal, you’re having a time out because you chose not to clean up the Legos. Now, if you clean up the Legos with me, you can come out of “time out” and we can play with the firetruck, ok?”
Worked like a charm... By the way, instead of going with “time out” for my daughter (she’s 2), I’m going to use a different version I got off my sister-in-law: the “not ready yet” chair/place/dungeon/shackles/duct tape. I like that one a bit more than ”time out”, it just makes more sense to me. Call it whatever you like.
Make sure you compliment them when they make a “good” choice. The geezer said that praise would encourage them to make good choices more often, and I agree. Don’t forget that little snippet.
Obviously, my son wasn’t very happy about the introduction of the “time out” chair in his life, and refused to go in it at first. But the therapist coached me through it- quietly and gently placing him in the chair, and calmly telling him why he was there until he got it. It wasn’t easy, but few things worth being good at are, so I stuck with it. And it worked. Pow!
You can use the two choices thing when you’re simply deciding on a fun activity. Don’t overwhelm you’re kid with too much stuff-
“Right, do you want to play with your kitchen or paint? We could go to the park or go for a tricycle adventure! Oooh, would you like to pick some flowers?”
That’s just going to make their little heads spin. Give them two choices. Simple. Clean. Efficient. Bogart.
“Alright, kid, what’s it gonna be- tricycle adventure or painting? C’mon, Dollface, I haven’t got all day.”
Or something like that.
If you are a clueless dad like I used to be- I hope this helped.
If you know a clueless dad- send this to him. Maybe it’ll help.
Because it’s all about family. All the time.
That’s it for now.
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