Letting Kids Know You Mean Business —

Say what you mean, mean what you say and stick with it.

Many years ago I was a classroom teacher — mainly middle and high school. Cheating was an epidemic. Having been brought up on the conviction that grades aren’t more important than one’s integrity, it was something I wouldn’t stand for. It was non-negotiable. Besides, there was no way I was willing to spend test-time as a policewoman on patrol ready to catch shifty-eyed culprits. My time was too precious and I had better ways to spend it.

I had a simple solution, which worked every time. At the beginning of the year I would give my warning: Anyone involved in cheating — cheater and “cheated” alike (“cheated” = a student whose neighbor copied from him/her) — would receive a zero on their test, which would then be taken into account, when calculating their final grade. Do the math. Because I was an English teacher, catching offenders was easy. Identical mistakes are a foolproof giveaway.

With every new class, I had, at most, one case of cheating on the first test. When it happened, I would announce with crushing pathos how deeply offended I was by the act. My message was clear. What’s more, it was consistent. I stuck to my word: the cheater and the “cheated” both got zeros, no matter how bitterly they, and sometimes even their parents, protested or cunningly tried to get me to go back on my word with tears, threats or promises that it would never happen again.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Once — that’s all it took to put an end to cheating in each of my classes. And, do you know what? My students never bore a grudge. On the contrary. They admired my determination to fight a plague, which had become part of the system and which they too fell victim to. What’s more, despite the discomfort and the challenge I set before them, they appreciated my approach:

Say what you mean; mean what you say; and deliver.

Parenting, like teaching, is hard. I don’t deny that. Life can be confusing at times, particularly when multiple events are happening simultaneously at an accelerated pace.

We are bombarded with messages left and right — some explicit; many more implicit and oftentimes contradictory with hidden agendas. But, having said that, kids are fast learners and quickly figure out which messages are meant to be taken seriously and which to be ignored.

How many times do we tell our kids, “If you don’t stop bawling right now, we’re going home!” but end up staying, even when they don’t stop, because it wasn’t really our intention to leave in the first place?

How many times do we warn our kids that if they don’t finish what’s on their plate, they won’t get dessert, and end up giving them dessert, because we feel guilty or simply can’t deal with a tantrum?

How many times do we threaten to take the tablet away, because it’s about time they went outside to play, did a craft or even fought with their sibling just for the sake of some real life interaction, but then “forget” to execute our threat, because in the meantime, we too have been lured into our social media feed and glued to our phone?

You get the picture.

So here’s what you can do to let your kids know that you mean business, so that they will listen and take you seriously.

First, decide what consequence you can actually handle. If you want to stay at the park or party, don’t threaten your bawling child that you will go home, if he doesn’t stop. On the other hand, if going home is an option you can deliver, go for it, especially if your kid knows he’ll be missing out on some fun. Remember! Actions speak louder than words.

Second, be consistent. Once you have spelt out the consequence — such as “No dessert, if you don’t finish your peas …” stick with it. For kids there is nothing more convincing than watching their siblings gobble down a bowl of ice cream, when they’re stuck with a pile of cold peas. Don’t worry! Kids don’t go hungry, because they’ve chosen not to finish their dinner. If you hear grumbling, it’s not their hungry tummies, but your kids sharpening their manipulation skills to challenge you with.

Finally, think long-term. Saying what you mean, meaning what you say and following through with it yield powerful lasting results. Like with my students, usually once is enough. Kids get it. Even when kids are constantly testing our boundaries, when your message is clear and the consequences consistent, kids know you mean business and will think twice before pushing your buttons.

It’s time to take control of our lives.

It’s Time 2 Lead!

It’s time to THRIVE.