In our last post, we talked about how you can stop buying everything your kids see in the store by setting a proper example the very first time around. But what if that window of teachable moment has long since gone from your grasp? What will you do then with your older children who have been spoiled and feeling ever more entitled to bigger and better prizes?
Well, my proposal is straight-forward and the solution deceptively simple: start doing the right thing today!
Much like a house that has been sorely in need of repair and cleaning, the way to right past wrong would be to do the same “clean-up” work, one job at a time, but also go in knowing that not everything will sparkle or look right the first few tries. Unlearning bad habits is tough, just like restoring a dirty, neglected house is tough. But the approach is basically the same, albeit with some expectation adjustment, and maybe a few extra special tools in your pocket to help out.
Go Prepared: Counter the Cue Before It Hits!
Five minutes after Joey enters the store with you, while you work as expediently as possible, nabbing and checking every item off your list, he starts to exhibit the telltale sign of restlessness: he grabs everything he can get his grubby little paws on and badger you to get it for him.
How about Oreo? We need Oreo, mama! O, o, ice-cream sandwich! Can we have ice-cream sandwich for dessert, pleeeeaaase!! Mama! I’m thirsty! Can I have something to drink? No, I don’t want water. I want juice! Juice! Juice! O, o, o, can we have the Avengers cereal please, please, please… Hulk smash, Hulk smash, Hulk smash, smash, smash!!!
Working ever more frantically, you alternately throw more items into your cart and replace the ones thrown in by the little Avenger by your side. You don’t even bother with price check, comparison shopping, coupons or any other smart shopping rituals that a diligent mom is expected to perform. But your mad grabbing is only matched by the ever-maddening speed of your child’s self-serving infomercials that run counter to your desire to complete the shopping mission in good time and under budget.
If you’ve read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg or have taken Psychology 101 in college, you might have remembered that habit is a loop that consists of the cue (trigger), routine (behavior), and reward (benefit).
Something (Is it boredom? Is it a devious game? Is it a power struggle? Is it simply because they can?) drives Joey to relentlessly bargain for and fill up the cart with as many things as possible (the unwanted behavior) until he is satisfied (rewarded by spoil or by conquest.) Your job is to figure out what the trigger is, find an acceptable behavior to replace the unwanted one, in order to deliver some comparable satisfaction to your child.
An Ounce of Prevention: the Quickest Antidote to a Bored Child
If I suggest boredom might be one of the most common reasons that children act up, the irony is also that boredom is highly preventable and should rarely be an issue. Expect your kids to be bored while you shop, bring things along for them to do. A book, a blanket, a small toy, even the rare tablet or phone access — the keyword here is “rare” as in the fact that they have not been the default baby-sitters; otherwise, their allure is greatly diminished by now and would not serve as a good incentive — will all act relatively well as distractions to the causal offenders.
Bring small snacks and his own bottle of juice. Something to munch on and a jolt of sugar make most of us happy, provided that it is done judiciously and in small doses.
Just Because They Can Doesn’t Mean They Should: Explaining Good v. Bad Ideas
Typically, kids just do things simply because they are being kids: little creatures who are inquisitive of their surroundings, desirous of adventures, and naturally curious of the limit of their protective boundary. They don’t mean anything bad by it. But it is certainly your job to judge for them whether some of their actions are good or bad. Once again, have a conversation with them: why they’d like to buy the Avengers cereal now instead of finishing up the 4 opened boxes at home; why it’s a bad idea to drink juice now that it’s so close to dinner time and possibly ruining their appetite for the real meal; why supermarket is never a good place to buy toys at. Of course, if you aren’t genuinely interested in getting to know them, it’ll look like you’re simply “talking your way out” of buying things for them. Well, do take a genuine interest. You’ll be surprised by what they tell you.
It’s Not Funny nor Helpful: Put On Your Poker Face
Is it somewhat cute when your kid misbehave, especially when they are little? Do you have a hard time disciplining because you can’t stop yourself from grinning at their antics? Sure, it can be cute and entertaining but only if they don’t come home and live with you! I personally think it’s down right dangerous to enable and laugh away troubling behavior, especially when it’s rude, disrespectful, or just wrong. Fingering and pulling every yogurt drink off the shelf is rude. Ignoring your instructions to stop badgering is disrespectful. “Sampling” items from the bulk food section is stealing and therefore, wrong. No matter how adorable or how young and innocent you think they are, put on your poker face (not mean face) and correct the behavior right away. Remember the rule of primacy? Do it right the first time and save time and trouble to correct the behavior later. You’ll have plenty of time to laugh and reminiscence when the kids are safely in bed.
Squashing the Seeds of Rebellion: Assert Your Parental Authority
When our kids are young, we told them “no” often. No, don’t run off the playground! No, don’t stick your fingers into the socket! No, don’t pull the cat’s tail! The interesting phenomenon is that as they grow older, we seem to have lost the ability to say “no” to them with the same fiercely protective, albeit, anxiously loving authority that distinguish us as parents, guardians, protectors as opposed to mere friends or equals to them. Why? Do we think them better equipped now that they are 5 instead of 2? 11 instead of 9? 15 instead of 12?
Don’t be afraid to assert your parental authority. Children need limits and boundaries in order to feel safe and loved. But push they will and you should push back. Obviously, if limits and boundaries have not been persistently imposed on our children back when we were hunters/ gatherers and wild things roamed free, there wouldn’t have been too many of us left to propagate the earth till the present time. Most limits are imposed to ensure the survival of the human race. Some limits are for physical protection, some emotional, and still some for sorting out right and wrong. Someone wisely calls a parent’s role as that of a “benevolent dictator.” So, yes, do fancy yourself the reigning sovereign of your domain, call all the shots, but do it with kindness and wisdom. You will go far.
Never Say Never: It’s Not Too Late for Your Teenage Children
While I can claim no expertise on tackling teenage issues, I’ll speculate that similar tactics could work for your teenage children. But if you’ve waited this long to address the issue, you’d expect no magic bullet to correct years of entitled attitude in a few shots. Perhaps it is also time for you to examine the deep-seated issues that lied behind your child’s attitude. There will be time yet to try to address and resolve those hidden problems before your child leaves home instead of slapping on another bandage to cover up the symptoms. Part 3 of this series to follow.