How to follow through so the kids don't play you

Nov 30, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Sometimes you think you’re more of a violin than a mom. Your kids work your strings to make you sing whatever tune they want to hear.

Your kids' demands seem to be getting out of control — they're becoming more demanding, and you’ve become a broken record of empty threats. So how can you start following through?

In theory, you get it. Really, you do. If you want to get your control back as a parent, you have to take a stand. You have to learn to say no — and mean it — so your kids will take you seriously. But how? It's so much easier said than done. If it wasn't, you wouldn't be pulling your hair out, right?

No more empty threats

Is it a battle worth picking?

Myers suggests that parents ask themselves two questions when trying to decide if it's a battle worth fighting.

  1. Is it important?
  2. Can I follow through?

If the answer to either question is no, don't make it a battle.

"If you make a stand, be prepared to follow through," warns therapist Erika Myers. "This means, however, picking your battles carefully. My 2-year-old son wanted to eat crackers for breakfast one morning. I said no. He pitched a huge fit that lasted 30 minutes, but I held fast and he had cereal instead. After, I questioned why I had chosen to say no — did it really matter that much? I decided it didn't, so the next time he asked for crackers for breakfast, I put some peanut butter on them and happily gave them to him."

Avoiding power struggles: Parenting without bribes or threats >>

Consistency is key

"If you follow through nine out of 10 times, the 11th time your child will test you to see if you will give in again. Until they believe you are serious about what you say, they will push and test," says Myers.

Plan ahead

Counselor Angie Mabe suggests, "Ask any parent what they are constantly nagging their kid about and you will get a list of three to four grievances right off the bat. Take this list of grievances, write them down and then think about a consequence for each grievance and write the consequence next to the grievance. One of the problems that many parents have is trying to find the right consequence for the behavior. Take the guess work out of it and plan ahead."

Mabe continues, "So when the little individual, whom the majority of time you are proud to share a gene pool with, decides to act a fool, it will not take you by surprise. Pull out your list and enforce the consequence."

"Don't plead, don't bribe, don't cajole, don't threaten, don't yell. Keep calm, lay out the choices, administer the consequence," adds Meyers.

Be a broken record

"Kids have mastered the art of being a broken record, hence why you feel like you are a pushover for a parent. They wear you down and then they own you! You are so exhausted by their demands, that you seriously contemplate giving your 6-year-old the keys to your car, just to have some peace and quiet. If handing the keys over to your child has ever crossed your mind, then it is time to wear them out first," says Mabe.

"When the undesirable behavior occurs, pull out your list of consequences and simply state the consequence. If the child argues back, continue to say the same thing, over and over and over and over and over and over again. Kids will eventually get tired of hearing the same thing and give up! You gave them no room to argue or to use their kid logic," adds Mabe.

Read more on discipline

Direction and discipline: Be a parent, not a pushover
Evaluating your discipline techniques
Parenting Guru: Is it wrong to punish kids?