I can’t pretend (despite the fact that I sometimes do pretend) to know the first thing about how to properly raise your kids. But there are a few obvious dos and don’ts:
- Do: Love them. Feed them. Clothe them.
- Don’t: Abuse them. Starve them. Let them play football.
There’s one thing that should have its own category, though.
- Okay to do Sometimes, Depending on the Situation: Ignore them.
Ignoring your kids is not advisable. Except when it is. And then it’s glorious. Because ignoring is bliss.
My son is a tremendous pain in the ass.
For the past few months, Detective Munch has been a rough customer. He’s more defiant than ever, his whining has exploded, and he’s throwing tantrums at a rate unseen since the great “No You Can’t Have Every Thirteen-Dollar Piece of Crap Twirly Light Thing the Vendor at the Street Fair/Baseball Game/Marvel Avengers Live Show is Selling Debacle” of Summer 2014. I feel like an idiot for being relieved that he’d skipped the terrible twos way back when now that the terrible three-through-fives are still going strong.
There are a million legitimate reasons for the recent uptick in his bad behavior, many of which fall under the umbrella of “he’s five years old,” but some of which are due to recent upheaval – new house, new school, new baby on its way. He can’t be blamed for acting out.
But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be stopped.
We’ve tried everything. Time-outs and… well, mostly just time-outs, I guess. There’s not much else you can do to discipline your kids these days, not without someone (my wife) glaring at you.
I suck at disciplining my kid. I have no Dad voice; I just yell. I have no patience; I just yell. I don’t do 1-2-3 Magic; I just yell. I don’t bend down and talk with him about his feelings; I bend down and take his toy and threaten to put it in the garbage. I’m the worst.
I have one Hail Mary tactic left, and it’s proving to be a life-saver. For both of us.
I ignore the shit out of him.
He starts whining? Ignore. He starts screaming? Ignore. He starts yelling, “I hate you” over and over? Throw on headphones. He throws himself on the ground and kicks and wails? Walk away and grab a beer. So long as you can convince-slash-remind yourself that he’s a little kid and none of this is personal, turning your back on a tantruming child is just about the most liberating thing in the world. The bonus? IT WORKS.
He’ll stop. When you walk away, when you don’t join him in his overreaction, when you don’t fuel the fit by giving him the attention he’s desperate for, he’ll stop. He’ll stop immediately and he’ll stop in the long-term. He’ll realize it just doesn’t work and he’ll abandon the practice. (For something new and potentially worse, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Tomorrow.)
The catch? It’s a lot easier said than done. Especially if, like me, your fallback thus far has been yelling.
My son riles me up. He pushes my buttons. Part of it is just our personalities clashing, but part of it is also his age, and my inability to police myself. I need to be better. And I’m working on it. If I can get a handle on this new tactic, I think things will improve.
It helps that ignoring him is its own reward. Not only does it curb negative behavior, ignoring him is bliss! I can not stress enough how satisfying it is to let him tire himself out while I busy myself with something, literally anything else.
Be careful, though. Ignoring your kids is like crossing the streams: it’s not typically recommended. In most situations, it’s terrible parenting and will lead to much worse situation down the line. You can only ignore a specific type of bad behavior, and then only after a proper state of love and trust has been firmly established.
Then, once that foundation is laid, and they’re secure in the fact that you’ll always be there for them, and one of them suddenly loses his mind when you have the gall to respond with “yes, you can have a cookie, after you clean up your toys,” instead of with “yes, of course we can do everything you want to do exactly when you want to do it, Your Majesty!”
You can just bail. Leave. Take off for a bit.
Trust me: As long as you eventually come back, it’s better for both of you.