One day, you have a toddler who poops in the potty for the first time. Delighted, you set out to the store to reward her with a gift. A year later, you celebrate the first book she reads aloud with another present.
In first grade, good behavior, spelling tests and Tuesdays all seem like good reasons to give your angel a gift. And everything's great until you realize that you personally are responsible for half of Target's corporate revenues for the last quarter, and that your child has come to expect that her every action warrants a reward.
If you think your child developed a case of the gimmes completely on her own, well, wake up, sister. We love you, but it's time to take a good, long look in the mirror and admit your own
role in this adventure. We're still friends, but you are at least partly culpable here.
So now that you're in this mess, it's time to start getting out. And you can, by committing to be your child's parent, not her friend. She doesn't have to like you all the time. And she will not actually stop loving you if you refuse to buy her candy, the latest princess movie, clothes from the coolest store, or whatever she's clamoring for at the moment.
The first time you deny a request, your child will be stunned. Tantrums have always worked for her in the past, so that's what she'll do. "I hate you! You're the worst mom ever!" Get used to it, girlfriend, because this is only the beginning.
You will meet the 9-year-old who goes on hunger strikes to protest not having a cell phone. You will become intimately familiar with the child who willingly accepts detention rather than do her homework without benefit of the latest laptop. You will hear vitriol and hatred spew from the lips you once traced in awe, and you may even cry yourself to sleep for a night or two. But you will get through this, and you will do it with one simple phrase: "No, and that's the end of the discussion."
Here's the catch: You have to mean it. No matter what your child says or does, you cannot allow yourself to engage in a discussion about the item in question.
When your child threatens to leave her lunch at home unless you comply with her demands, you need to stand fast. "Your skipping lunch doesn't actually affect me," you can say, and you need to mean it. No matter what she says when she calls from school at lunchtime, you need to stick to your guns. Unless your child has Type 1 diabetes, she will not die from skipping a meal.
That does not mean that you ignore the insults hurled your way. Not at all. You simply find your quiet spot in your head, recite psalms or Grateful Dead lyrics or whatever you need, and quietly go about eliminating privileges and tangible objects from your child's life. So while Suzy screams, you simply say, "That's TV. That's the phone. That's the birthday party on Saturday. That's your hairdryer." When you name an object, go get it and put it away -- in a highly visible spot -- immediately.
Later, when things are calmer, you can tell your child how she can earn things back, one at a time: "If you can get through the rest of the day without raising your voice or calling me names, you can check your email tomorrow after school." She won't like these rules, and she'll make her displeasure known. Again, you must remember that you are the parent, not the friend.
You also must be careful not to undo your hard work. So you can't say, "Okay, you can go to the party on Saturday if you promise you'll do X, Y and Z afterwards." First comes the change in
attitude, then comes the privilege, in moderation.
This plan doesn't produce immediate results, but it will work if you give it time. Try it for 30 days, and see where you are.
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