I confess to being fond of the threat in the commercial above. Three kids in, I’m no expert on threatening my kids. Hell, the idea of “threatening” sounds awful to me. But somehow I find I do it all the time anyway. So what works? We all know the classic threats: “No TV for a week,” “You need a time-out,” and “YOU SEE THIS BELT?” . . . which we might say have varying degrees of effectiveness.
So too my own methods. Which do not involve my grasping at my belt buckle (not that I actually wear a belt). I’ve discovered a few things work–at least on my kids–when it comes to discipline and a few things that don’t . . .
Now, all kids respond differently. In fact, even my own kids don’t necessarily respond to our threats the same way. Full disclosure: pretty much everything here is in regard to LL. And moreover: LL is big on punishment. He will often preemptively declare “Punish me!” after jumping on Cool J’s head and farting on it (How many times do I have to say: “Your bum is not Anakin and that fart is not your lightsaber!”?) or stapling together the pages of the novel I was (was) reading (it wasn’t that good anyway — the kid was probably doing me a favor). If I’m not quick enough, he’ll self-punish by locking himself in his room and declaring that he is a horrible, hateful child that we couldn’t possibly love, and if we still ignore him, he’ll throw out his favorite toys.
Cool J is unpunishable. If I say, “If don’t you get in the car RIGHT NOW, you’re not getting the Lego Death Star for your 16th birthday,” (he will forget by then, right??), he’ll reply, agonizingly slowly, reaching up to hold my hand, and pulling me down to look into his eyes, “Mama. I’m just 3. Please be patient. I’m still learning to be quick.” If I say, “You just put your chocolate-covered hand on my white skirt. No more dessert for you!” he’ll smile up at me and say, “Mama, you’re sooooo pretty, especially when you wear your black skirt like Darth Vader.” And if I say, “YOU JUST STEPPED ON THE BABY’S HEAD! I’M GOING TO–” I’ll get smothered in hugs and kisses before I can finish my threat and inundated with “I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU FOREVER, MAMA!!!” (the “forever,” for the record, comes from that classic how-to-make-your-sappy-mother-cry children’s book, Love You Forever, which Cool J asks me to read over and over again: “I want to see Mama cry again”–big grin–“and I want to see the boy flush his mama’s watch down the toilet–and I want to know what bad words the boy said when his gramma came to visit. Will you tell me the bad words?”)
So for LL, anyway, here’s what’s effective:
1. “That’s it! If you do that one more time, you can’t do your homework tonight!” (I swear, it works. Not only that, it makes them think that homework is a great treat that they have to earn, on par with chocolate ice cream and dried apricots . . . the latter, I admit, another little trick–one learned from none other than the infamous Anna Oh). (Incidentally, I told LL that the standard rule in many places is 10 minutes of homework for every grade he’s in–1st grade, 10 minutes; 2nd grade, 20 minutes; 3rd grade, 30 minutes, etc. He excitedly reported: “In 12th grade, you get 120 minutes, which is also TWO HOURS, and then Mama, I don’t know how much in university, but by the time you finish university, you get TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY OF HOMEWORK TO DO WHILE YOU SIT AROUND AND DRINK TEA THE WHOLE TIME!!”–which is not a terrible summation of his parents’ lives).
2. “Get off your brother right now! OK, you know what’ll happen if you continue: we are skipping [fill in the blank here with your kid’s birthday] January 23. From now on, you have no birthday. The calendar is going to go from January 22 to January 24.” (This one leads to BIG tears and immediate obedience) (If you do Christmas, December 24 to December 26 would be equally brilliant).
3. (Similar to #2): “Now you’ve done it. There is no L [or whatever your kid’s name starts with] in the alphabet anymore. From now on, the alphabet runs HIJKMNO . . . Drop that Leap Frog Scribble and Write if you’re even thinking of writing an L” (I don’t say “Thou Whoreson EL! Thou Unnecessary Letter!” because that seems a bit much, even if it is paraphrasing the bard).
And 3 of our less effective methods:
1. This one came out by accident, and it’s the kind of thing a parent is NEVER supposed to say (Imsorryimsorryimsorryimsorry):
“I’m going to kill you!!”
To which I got a very lengthy reply: “You are? You’re going to kill me? How are you going to kill me? Are you going to use a lightsaber? Are you going to freeze me? Are you going to run me over with our car? Are you going to shoot me? Do you have a sword? Am I the bad guy or are you the bad guy? I want to be the bad guy. Are you allowed to kill me? Are you going to go to jail? Can I be Generalis Greivous? Can I be the Emperor? I want to be the Emperor.”
2. (To Cool J, so naturally ineffective, but I’ll note it because it’s not going to send me to hell, like #1–I think): “That’s it! If you can’t listen to me, I’m going to put you in the recycling box. And if they recycle you into paper, I’m going to write all over you, and then I’m going to put you back into the recycling box. And if they recycle you into a bottle, I’m going to drink water out of you, and then I’m going to put you back in the recycling box. And if–“
Cool J: “Mama, I’m just going to put you in the toilet, poo on your head, and flush you down. And you won’t come back.”
3. (And the last of the ineffective threats — this was purely The Scientist’s invention, and he claimed, like a good parent, he really would follow through on his threat): “If you don’t stop whining, I’m going to put you in the microwave.”
As you might imagine, knowing what you do about LL, he lay on the ground, curled up in a ball (the better to fit), and demanded “Put me in. Put me in, Dada!” In fact, this happens quite a bit. He’ll barely be breaking into a sulk when a look is shot his way, and Bam!–he’s down on the ground, fetal position, waiting . . . We might have to break this habit before Child and Family Services finds out about it . . .
So, there you go: parenting tips from someone who clearly knows, you know, not a whole lot.