Disciplining your kids is hard.
It requires nuance. You can’t yell all the time, because it loses its effectiveness after a while. You can’t spank ever because you were spanked by your parents when it was acceptable and are now you are totally insane and probably in jail. You need to develop tricks. Time-outs, good cop/bad cop, the Parent Voice, etc.
Most of the time, getting your kids to behave boils down to two strategies: threats and bribes.
We like to think we’re in charge, but we’re not.
Since the day they’re born, our kids have us wrapped around their chubby fingers. For a few years, that’s fine, because infants and toddlers are easy enough to handle. Mostly you just have to protect them from their own stupidity. But as they get older, it gets more complicated. Especially once they realize they’re in control and your usual strategies of threats and bribes begin to backfire.
If your kid is acting up, you threaten to take away his screen time, his favorite toy, his dessert, his play date. If you’re like me, you occasionally go too far and threaten outrageous and impractical things, like to send your 7-year-old to military school, or to never let him watch TV again, or to not take him to grandma’s that weekend as if you’d ever leave him alone by himself what if a couple of criminals tried to break in he doesn’t have any idea how to do anything let alone set up booby traps!
Eventually, if you go too far or don’t follow through enough, threats become meaningless. Next thing you know your kid is totally ignoring you, doing whatever he wants without any fear. Your sweetheart turns into a sociopath. So you try bribes.
You want to preempt any misbehavior, so you make promises, telling him he can sleep in your bed that night if he finishes his dinner, or that he can watch a movie he’s been dying to see if he does his homework without any struggle, or that you’ll buy him a new toy if he lets you sleep past 7am on Saturday just once please god I don’t ask for much!
Eventually, if you promise rewards too often, the bribe becomes the baseline and you can’t get the kid to do anything without an expectation that he’ll get a prize afterwards. Sorry kid, but getting dressed and making it to the bus stop on time will not win you a cookie. To quote Michael Scott, “It’s what you’re SUPPOSED TA DO!”
The problem, of course, is that threats run out of steam faster than bribes. There is only so much discipline you can lay down on your kids before they realize they’ve already seen the worst of it. You’re not gonna hit them, because you’re not crazy. You’re not going to send them to military school because you’re not rich/crazy. You’re not going to deprive them off TV very long because you’re not a glutton for punishment/crazy.
Which leaves bribes. And the possibility that you’re creating Veruca Salt 2.0. I have literally no solution for this. If your threats have turned empty and your bribes are backfiring, all you can do is wait and hope. Wait for your kid to get old enough to reason with, and hope that at some point all the parenting you’ve been doing will actually kick in.
Unfortunately, even if that does happen and sometime between the ages of seven and 12 your kid turns into a decent person you can take out in public without the Hannibal Lecter mask, odds are it will all fall apart again as soon as high school comes around.
Is this fun or what?!