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Mean what you say

Obedience is something we all want to teach our children. Working in early childhood for more than 20 years, I've had the honor of learning with, and from, hundreds of families. As a result, I've made some observations. First, children are smart and know if there will be a consequence for not listening. Second, parents -- myself included -- often make empty threats to their children.

How can we teach our children to obey? I feel one of the best things we as parents and grandparents can do is to mean what we say. If you need to run errands and your young child isn't cooperating, don't threaten to leave them home if they don't get ready. Unless you have a sitter lined up, you cannot follow through and actually leave them home while you run those errands. If you tell the kids to pick up their toys or you will throw them away, you had better be willing to really throw the toys out or it's again an empty threat. In the heat of the moment we often say things we wish we hadn't. It's easy to get frustrated with your child's behavior and threaten things we have no intention on following through with. Our kids quickly learn this.

A few years back in Early Childhood Family Education, a parent shared a great story showing the effectiveness of strategic thinking and how she taught her kids that she meant what she said. Grandma lived several hours away and her kids loved going to visit. However, the car ride was always miserable because of all the fighting. So one day, she told the kids they were going to Grandma's, and she loaded the suitcases into the car. Once in the car, the mother told her children that if there was any fighting, they would turn around and go home.

Sure enough, a few miles down the road the kids started fighting. She immediately turned the car around and went back home, much to the dismay of the kids. The great thing about this story was this: The mother was more than willing to go to Grandma's that day BUT was actually planning on going to Grandma's the following weekend. She knew they would fight in the car and that she would have to come back home. She wanted to teach them a lesson. She wanted her kids to know that she meant what she said! The next weekend, the trip to Grandma's was made fight-free!

Don't let them convince you to change your mind! Now, this doesn't meant we need to follow through on a crazy threat that was made in a moment of frustration. Even the best among us will occasionally overreact with a comment such as, "I am going to throw away all your toys." In these cases you can cut yourself some slack, but be sure to give out a reasonable consequence such as taking away some toys for a while.

Being a parent is a tough job. In those difficult moments, take a breath and think about how you will respond to misbehavior. Be strategic in how you mete out consequences. Planning ahead and talking with your spouse may help you to create some very creative and effective consequences. A consistent response from parents will help your children realize that you mean what you say.