Reader Question: Why is it that no consequence seems to work for long, if at all, with my very strong-willed 7-year-old daughter? I have tried everything I’ve ever heard or read about to deal with her constant disobedience and disrespect. Some things, like taking away her computer privileges for a day or so, have worked for maybe a week at most, then stop working. It’s like she doesn’t really care if I punish her. Nothing fazes her. Help!
Consequences only work when the child in question regards the parent as an authority figure. Your daughter’s disrespect is clear indication that she does not see you in that light. You are obviously frustrated with her, which undermines her respect for you.
Obedience and respect are not obtained by using proper consequences. They are obtained by projecting a proper attitude. The attitude in question is calm, self-possessed, straightforward, and matter-of-fact. The parent is cool, calm, and collected—unflappable. A child’s natural response to an adult who projects those qualities—which I call Plan A—is obedience. That adult will only need to fall back on consequences—Plan B—occasionally, as a reminder.
Without the proper parental attitude, no consequence will work for more than a few hours to a few days. With the proper attitude, consequences are rarely needed. As living proof, parents who have well-behaved, well-mannered children are models of the attitude in question. Other parents sometimes make the mistake of thinking these parents are “lucky.” Not so. They are not relaxed because they were blessed with “easy” children. Their kids are easy because they are relaxed.
Their kids also know they mean business. When it comes to consequences, these parents don’t fool around. They use huge consequences in response to small misbehaviors. Taking away computer privileges for a day or two when a child disobeys is an example of fooling around. Taking away every single privilege the child enjoys for two or three weeks during which time the child goes to bed at least one hour early every night is not fooling around.
“For one misbehavior?” someone asks incredulously.
Yes, for one misbehavior. The purpose of a consequence is to significantly reduce, even eliminate, the likelihood that the misbehavior will recur. To accomplish that, the consequence has to instill a permanent memory, one that lights up like the Fourth of July if the child is ever again so inclined.
That approach to the use of consequences, coupled with the attitude described above, minimizes their need and leads eventually to a very relaxed, easy-going parent-child relationship. Face it, the need to discipline constantly as you describe yourself doing, creates tension in the parent-child relationship. That tension interferes with the free flow of affection.
In short, the key to having a wonderful relationship with your kids is to embrace your natural authority and stop worrying about whether punishments “fit” crimes.