Last week we revisited the notion that many parents embody “Gumby Parenting” (my term) as a way of interacting with their child and managing challenging behavior (I am a Gumby Parent).
Gumby Parenting leads to an array of child manipulations.
We talked about the cure for this style of parenting for parents to take the first step and “own it,” meaning they understand how they have become “Gumby parents,” with a repetition of the mantra – “I am a Gumby…Don’t be a Gumby.”
Taking an effective action is the next step. Too often, this is confused by parents as yelling or some other type of excessive punishment, typically delivered in a highly reactive (angry) manner.
This is not what I mean by an “effective action.”
To be effective the child needs to take notice. The action needs to feel uncomfortable to the child (I don’t mean physically, by the way), like there should be some type of internal reaction on the child’s part that goes something like, “Ugh. This isn’t fun. Mom really means business. I really messed up. I’d better change my ways.”
The action is situational. That is, you have to determine what the effective action is for the given situation and the transgression on the child’s part.
For example, let’s say you’re at a birthday party and you see your child getting “rammy” (you know what I mean) and pushy with other children. An ineffective action would be threatening something about his video games when you get home later in the day. The threat of the video games has nothing to do with the situation at hand.
A much more effective action would be to march the child out to the car (after he’s had one warning) and just sit there ignoring the child for about 10 minutes while he sits in the back seat with no screen, no nothing. Do not lecture or talk to him while he sits there. Your job is to be chilly and ignore the child even if he is whimpering and pleading.
At the end of the 10 minutes you ask the child if he is ready to return to the party by saying something like the following:
“Listen, Mason. Your behavior in the party was horrible. You are not allowed to push, hit or be grabby with the other kids. If I see you doing these behaviors, we are going to return to the car again. It’s up to you. I’m sure, it’s not fun to spend the birthday party in the car.”
Let’s go to another scenario. If it’s a home situation, then you have different leverage. Most kids are thoroughly and completely connected to their screens (i.e., they are addicted to them), whether it is the phone, a game system or iPad.
If you don’t get basic cooperation, then Mason can have a very boring and quiet night. That is he didn’t earn those privileges with the way he behaved at home.
Here’s a model for how to speak to Mason:
“Mason, I’m sorry but you have lost all of your screen privileges for the night. You were rude to mommy and you refused to cooperatively do your work, even though we asked you to do so a number of times. It is going to be a very boring and quiet night around here. Maybe tomorrow you will figure it out. If not it will be another boring night. It’s your choice.”
Trust me. Mason is sweating it out big time and wondering what happened to the screaming ranting mom who previously took no effective action in spite of her yelling.
This mom is different and Mason knows it right away. She’s taken an effective action.
He may not be articulating it exactly this way, but he is saying something like this to himself, “Yeesh, this mommy has a backbone – she can’t be twisted around like Gumby mommy.”
You know how I feel about Gumby Parenting.
Now go practice taking effective actions.