It’s probably a sign of desperation when you follow your toddler into a bookstore and walk out with a copy of “Have a New Kid by Friday” by Dr Kevin Leman, but that’s exactly what happened. Gareth was looking at Mickey books. The opposite shelf happened to be stocked with parenting books and right there staring straight at me was you know what…
What prompted this was Gavin’s most recent bout of Formidable Fours which appears to be ongoing with no respite. Although I have reassured myself that a lot of this is normal and expected behaviour from a four year old, it’s difficult not to respond with a knee-jerk reaction and lament that your child is going to turn into one of those horrible little monsters you used to despise other parents for back in the days of “singledom” when you had no idea how hard it could be to raise a child. But, as they say, a little fear is healthy as long as you use it positively. So this is me using that fear positively…
I figured it was time to reassess how I have been handling Gavin and to pick up a few more tricks for my discipline bag. I think I have found them in Dr Leman’s book. I tested my new arsenal on Gavin one morning when he was being particularly difficult about getting ready for school and was totally blown away by how effective it was. Only the morning before, Gavin had had a blow-out with his father over a cup of prune juice that he refused to drink (our usual remedy for mild constipation in a child who refuses to eat greens). On that morning, he sat down to breakfast, drank all this prune juice without me having to say a word about it! What a change from having to constantly nag him until I feel like throwing the cup onto the floor in a petulant tantrum of my own.
What I liked most about Dr Leman’s advice was that:
- it teaches children to listen so you don’t have to nag. I hate nagging and sounding like a broken record. I like to be able to tell people something once and know it will get done.
- there’s no shouting or screaming. In fact, there should NOT be any shouting or screaming (on the parent’s part anyway).
- it demonstrates respect for your child’s capabilities.
- it teaches your child responsibility.
So what does the good doctor advise when it comes to leading our wayward children back onto the path of good behaviour? Here’s the gist of it:
- Expect the best of your child
- Mean what you say
- Follow through on what you say
- Hold your child accountable for his or her actions
Yes, very straight forward and logical advice. So practical that you almost have to question why you would need to read about it in a book. Well, that’s because it sounds straight forward in theory but a lot of us don’t really practice it consistently and that’s where everything falls apart. Probably the most valuable part of Dr Leman’s book is not so much the advice but the examples and tips he offers for dealing with specific behaviours. Because although the theory is sound, sometimes figuring out how to put it into practice is hard.
What you need to do:
1. Say it once and walk away. No reminders, no repeats, no nagging – which helps to keep you calm because it’s having to repeat yourself time and again only to observe no action that will turn you into a rabid beast frothing at the mouth.
2. It’s all about attitude, behaviour and character. Again, monkey see, monkey do – so look first in the mirror and make sure your child isn’t mirroring you. Then:
- let reality be the teacher – don’t save your child, let him bear the consequences of his actions. E.g. if he won’t do his homework, don’t do it for him and let him face the consequences of not completing his homework.
- learn to respond rather than react – in other words, don’t get angry about it, just implement the punishment.
- B doesn’t happen until A is completed – if you child won’t do B, then he doesn’t get to do A.
3. Be an Authoritative parent – focus first on your relationship with your child because without a relationship, rules are useless. If your child does not respect you, he will not follow your rules. Also remember that there are molehills and then there are mountains. Don’t sweat the molehills, they usually sort themselves out. However, never, never neglect the mountain. In his book, Leman helps us determine which issues are mountains and which are molehills.
4. Help your child develop the three pillars of self-worth:
Focus on encouraging your child (his actions) rather than praising him (how good he is).
5. Implement your game plan – no warnings, no threats, no explanations; just action and follow-through.
Finally, Dr Leman’s 10 tips to help you implement your game plan:
- Be consistent in your behaviour.
- Always follow through on what you say you will do.
- Respond, don’t react.
- Count to 10 and think about what you would have done previously and what you will do now.
- Never threaten your children. Threats don’t work because you don’t implement them – especially when you say them in the heat of the moment, e.g. “No more candy for you for life!”
- Never get angry. Okay, we’re all human and prone to fits of anger so if you do lose it, apologise to your child for getting angry. Besides, we all tend to be a little irrational when we’re angry and our disciplinary measures are prone to extremism.
- Don’t give warnings. Just tell your child once and leave it at that. This will teach your child to listen carefully to what you say and it shows him respect – that you don’t think he’s so stupid he needs to hear it again and again.
- Ask yourself, “Who’s problem is this?” Like the homework, don’t assume ownership – let your child be responsible for his own actions.
- Don’t think the behaviour will go away on its own.
- Always keep a happy face on (even if you’re seething underneathe).
The rest of the book gives plenty of examples on how to implement this strategy for various behavioural issues, for example, dealing with anger, dealing with attention-seeking behaviour, handling bad language, etc.
Here’s more about “Have a New Kid by Friday” on Youtube:
Otherwise, you can purchase the book online from Book Despository where there is free world-wide shipping.
Update: Read a little more in the “Ask Dr Leman” section and I think there are probably some some advice that AP parents may not agree with such as the subject of sleep (Dr Leman doesn’t really agree with co-sleeping) and extended breastfeeding (Dr Leman doesn’t really agree with breastfeeding beyond the first year). Personally, I think there is a lot of sound advice in this book, however, like all parenting books, one does not have to agree with everything in a book for it to be deemed useful.