When Our Kids Act Like Honey Badgers
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
Just about every parent on the planet has had at least one moment when they wondered if their precious child had actually morphed into a rabid animal. And if you’re not in this club (yet) congrats on being in the .01% of people with absolutely perfect children. Please teach me your ways!
And if you are in this club occasionally, remember that your kid having a bad moment does not mean that a) he or she is a bad kid or b) you are a bad parent. There are going to be harder days and easier days with parenting, and we are all in this together.
I have seen my fair share of hot mess behavior after a decade of receiving my Master’s degree in Elementary Education, teaching, and then with my own kids when I became a parent. But having the benefit of expert training in classroom management as a teacher has taught me some tricks and perspectives that have enormously helped my parenting techniques. It is not my style to dish out advice, especially any with the underlying tone of “Just try this and everything will be fixed!”
It’s important to know that every single kid on earth is different, and ultimately knowing what is effective and healthy for each child is the best thing you can do when it comes to discipline.
But if you feel like you are constantly yelling, negotiating, losing your mind, or that your kids just don’t listen as much as you want them too, these strategies may be helpful for you. They are created from evidence-based strategies for the classroom, which I then adapted for parents to use in the home.
The steps covered here are 1) Being Proactive; 2) Positive Reinforcement; 3) The Value of the Word “No;” 4) Logical Consequences; 5) Fostering Responsibility in Kids and 6) Avoiding Power Struggles
1. BE PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE:
As adults, it’s easy to assume that our kids just know certain rules, especially ones that seem like common sense. But if we’ve never clearly stated an expectation, kids may not know that they should be or should not be doing something.
From birth to age three, a child’s brain develops so rapidly that it produces over a million neural connections every second.
They are intaking so much stimulus that sometimes you are going to have to explain things that may seem like a no-brainer. Rather than being reactive when they make a mistake, try being proactive to try to prevent the mistake before it starts. Some common scenarios:
Before giving them crayons or markers: “We only color in coloring books or on paper that we give you. We do not color on walls or furniture.”
Before friends come over that will want to play with their toys: “It’s important to share our toys with friends, just like how you enjoy playing with your friends’ toys. You can choose one or two very special toys that you do not have to share and put them in a safe place. Your friends can play with the rest of the toys.”
Before you go to the park: (or anywhere they may not want to leave) I will let you play for as long as we have time for, but when I say it’s time to go, you listen and say “okay.” When you do that, we can keep coming back to the park. If you argue, we lose the privilege of coming to the park.
2. THE WORD “NO”
I have read some non-researched base parenting advice that recommends parents never say the word “NO” to their kids. (How do I say this and still be Politically Correct?) FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS. Not only can this foster entitlement, it sets the child up to not know what to do when they get knocked on their arse in the world, where they absolutely will be told “no.”
You don't want your child to gape at a teacher or throw a tantrum in front of their class if they hear something like, “No, Connor, you may not pretend you are a gorilla and leap off the top of your desk to tackle Johnny.” As a teacher, I beg you, please don’t put your kid in a situation to be shocked to hear the word "no."
On the other hand, there are ways that we can better utilize the word "no." Saying "no" can be necessary if not life-saving; the difference between your child touching a hot stove or running into a busy street or not, so it’s important that they don’t hear it too much to not take seriously. By slightly altering our language to say “no” in a different way for minor situations, it holds more weight when it's important. For example:
Instead of: “No, you may not have that cookie.”
Try: “You may have that cookie when you finish your dinner.”
Instead of: “No, you can’t go to your friend’s house today.”
Try: “You may go to your friend’s house later in the week when we aren’t as busy.”
Instead of: “No, you can’t have that toy.”
Try: “You can earn that toy by ______.” (This can be something like doing a certain number of chores, getting good grades on a report card, being extra nice to a sibling, etc.)
As humans, our brains are naturally wired to often dislike the word “no.” Think about it: Do you like it when someone tells you that you can’t do something? With the above examples, you really are actually saying “no,” but just framing it as a “yes” statement. This helps them not grow so immune or frustrated when you really need to just tell them “NO.” Never saying no to your kids? Just say NO, people.
3: POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT:
Have you ever had a boss that only points out what you did wrong and never acknowledges what you did right? After awhile, you lose your motivation about caring to please him or her because it only seems impossible, so there is so sense is killing yourself trying.
The same goes with kids and adults. Noticing when they do something right and praising them for it is necessary to make them keep wanting to do it again.
Positive reinforcement should be used just as much, if not more, than negative reinforcement when parenting.
Just a simple “I noticed how you really had self-control, even when you were scared. You should be really proud of yourself!” can be really impactful.
When I noticed my kids going above and beyond an expected behavior, that’s when I give them a reward in addition to positive reinforcement. One time my preschooler volunteered to wash the dishes without being asked, so I praised the heck out of that behavior because I know that’s not happenin’ when she’s a teenager.
For a visual reference for my kids, I keep a sticker chart for each of my kids on my fridge, which I made from half a piece of paper and isn’t fancy at all. When I notice one of them really showing good behavior, they get to add a sticker or two to the chart. Once the sticker chart is filled up, she can pick out a small present, and I make a new chart.
My older daughter is SUPER MOTIVATED by this sticker chart, where my younger daughter is more luke-warm. It all comes down to knowing what works best for each kid (and this is often different for siblings in the same house, take it from me.)
4: LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES:
Difference Between Consequences and Punishments:
The term “Logical Consequences” is utilized from ©Responsive Classroom an evidence-based social curriculum utilized around the world and developed by educators, designed to teach children cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control (C.A.R.E.S.) I’ve taken the concept and put my own twist on it for parents. Here’s how it works:
Once an expectation is firmly established and you are sure your child fully knows what is expected of them, then a consequence may be in order if they don’t follow your directions. Kids--and adults--all make mistakes, and consequences are a necessary part of learning. It’s important to note how a consequence differs from a punishment.
A consequence is directly related to an action, while a punishment usually is not. Many kids develop armor and grow immune to punishment, especially if it does not require an action on their part (such as only getting yelled at as punishment every time – all they have to do is sit there and tune it out.)
It’s also human nature for people to just get better at avoiding punishment by learning how to cover up a negative behavior, rather than truly learning not to do it. This reminds me of a teacher in middle school that was crazy strict and issued detentions like it was her job. It didn’t make me respect her or want to follow her rules; if anything, I rebelled a bit and continued to write notes to my friends (in the prehistoric days before texting.) I was just more careful to not get caught.
Call Out the Action, Not the Person:
Another distinction is that a consequence focuses on a child’s behavior, not the child’s character. You aren’t shaming them, calling them a bad kid, asking them “what is wrong with” them, etc. For example:
Instead of: “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? HOW COULD YOU HAVE DONE THIS?”
Try: “That was a bad choice, and I’m surprised and disappointed that you thought that was okay.”
Instead of: “YOU ARE SO IRRESPONSIBLE.”
Try: “What you did was really irresponsible. I know that you are better than this. We are going to come up with a way for you to fix this.”
Here are some additional scenarios:
It’s also important that the logical consequence be something that is actually, well, logical. The purpose for this is to help them learn responsibility for their actions.
Kids see through grandiose threats like “I’m giving away ALL your toys FOREVER!” That’s a punishment for you too, because then you have to constantly entertain them. Toys are our friend. 😊
Avoid Giving Too Many Reminders
Keep in mind that even if your consequences are logical, they are only empty threats if you never act on them or only give reminders like “If you do that one more time…” after they have already not listened repeatedly. This only conditions them to learn that they get multiple warnings before they need to stop, and you will turn into a broken record. Nope and nope. My rule with my kids is I give them one reminder tops before I go to consequence. They know that I mean it and don’t push it.
Kids learn much faster from action (like logical consequences) rather than words (like repeated reminders, constant yelling, or empty threats.)
In most cases, you facilitate the consequence without needing to yell or raise your voice. This teaches them a direct correlation between their action and the consequence, not their action and you.
When You Need to Use Negative Reinforcement:
Now please hear me that I am not saying that you should never yell, put your kid in time-out, or sing Kumbaya and paint unicorns while you are disciplining. One time my daughter ran away from me in a store for 10 terrifying seconds that felt like 10 minutes, and you better believe I put the fear of God into her to never, ever do that again, for her own safety. There are just times when certain methods are effective and times when they are not. For example:
Regarding negative reinforcement, please remember that overly severe punishments can also be damaging to the child long-term. Mistakes, tantrums, and attitude are all common behaviors in children (that you probably did too) and should be corrected without crushing the kid’s spirit. You can still discipline while maintaining a child’s dignity and safety.
5. FOSTERING RESPONSIBILITY IN KIDS
Part of our job as parents is to teach our kids responsibility, a necessary life skill. Some common parenting approaches can be slightly altered to help foster abilities like time management, understanding consequences, and meeting deadlines. Here are two scenarios, both with the same goal of having a child clean his or her room:
Scenario 1: Parent assumes that the child’s definition of “clean” is the same as theirs. Parent tells child to clean their room and the child takes his or her time, or doesn’t do it at all. The parent then reminds, nags, threatens, or disciplines until the child listens. The room is only somewhat clean, causing more frustration from the parent.
In this situation, the outcome of a clean room is completely dependent on the PARENT by reminding, nagging, or disciplining the child.
Scenario 2: Parent has been proactive by teaching the child expectations of a clean room (bed made, clothes put away, floor picked up, etc.) The parent gives the child a deadline of having a clean room, such as by the end of the next day. The child can choose when he or she cleans, as long as it’s fully completed on time. If the child does not clean his or her room room, the logical consequence is to clean additional rooms in the house. No yelling, nagging, or reminding is necessary on the parent’s part.
In the above scenario, the outcome of cleaning the room is dependent on the CHILD, fostering real-world responsibility. This is a win-win for both the parent and the kid. Non-Special Snowflake kid behavior and a cleaner house.
6. POWER STRUGGLES
Some logical consequences (like a temporary loss of privilege of going to the park) don’t always require an action from the child, while some do (like having them pick up their toys.) But kids, bless them, have minds of their own and may refuse to do what you tell them to (I’ve got a couple of “strong-willed” kiddos myself.) Sometimes, what seems like a logical consequence just doesn't work. For example, a “logical consequence” for a kid who constantly gets up from the dinner table before they are excused may seem like physically tying them to the table, but that’s, you know, child abuse. So please don’t do that.
The moment you are in a Power Struggle with a child, you have already lost the Power Struggle.
The child can sense that you don’t have an upper hand, which may make them dig in their heels more. Here are some ways you can change your wording that avoids the power struggle.
Instead of: “PICK UP THOSE TOYS RIGHT NOW.”
Try: Your choice is to pick up your toys before this timer goes off, or else you will have another consequence.
Instead of: “EAT YOUR DINNER OR ELSE.”
Try: These are our choices for dinner. If you choose not to eat any of them, then you will be hungry. You will not get to eat another snack or dessert this evening.*
*Tip for picky eaters: I give my kids 3 foods that they do not have to eat. My daughter will literally throw up if she eats a certain pasta that everyone else in the family loves. So yeah, that food is one of three on her Mom-Approved-Food-Blacklist. I also give them options when possible for meals, like “Do you want apples or oranges for your fruit?” But I do not frantically make a 7-course meal to appease everyone, three times a day. Hard pass.
Got it. But What if They Still Don’t Listen?
If the child still refuses to listen, this is simply a matter of knowing your child and what is effective for them for any additional consequences. For my older daughter, it’s removing stickers from her sticker chart. For my younger daughter, her “additional consequence” is not being able to watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for a certain amount of time.
It doesn’t need to be severe, but it does need to bother them enough to motivate them to avoid that alternative. Keep in mind this is also going to change over time. As much as I’d like to think so, sticker charts or a Daniel Tiger ban isn’t going to be helpful when they’re 16.
There are so many days where I have self-doubt as a parent. I constantly wonder if I’m being too strict or too soft and if I’m doing something to send my kids to therapy when they grow up. But they know their boundaries and for the most part, they don't push them.
My kids also know that not only do I love them, I like them, even on those harder days.
Hopefully, these tips can help you feel more confident as a parent and lead to a smoother ride on this crazy journey that is parenting. May the odds be ever in your favor!