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“If you do that one more time, I am going to take away your computer time.”
“I warned you. Now you only get 10 minutes of computer time.”
“That’s IT. No computer today, tomorrow, and the rest of the weekend.”
Hey parents – how many times have you gone down this path with your kiddos?
I’m no parent by any means, but I AM a teacher and I used to catch myself in these moments more often than I’d like to admit.
It’s not that your child doesn’t care about computer time. In fact, I’ve dangled some of the most dazzling, exciting carrots in front of my students, thinking that it would get them engaged or attentive or, at the very least, compliant.
Yet, despite the fact that I had 1) warned them their favorite incentive would be taken away AND 2) actually TOOK the incentive away when they didn’t follow through with my expectation, the behaviors continued.
I liken it to my own experience as an adult who has been trying to fight off an extra 30 pounds on my body for the past 20 years of my life. It’s not that the end goal isn’t appealing to me. And it’s not that I don’t KNOW what to do. I know pretty darn well what foods will help me burn fat and what foods (e.g. my beloved french fries) don’t help the process. But my impulses take over and I do things I know aren’t going to help me meet my goal. Does it mean I should be punished because I couldn’t resist my impulses? Or does it mean that I let it go, learn from my mistake, and keep trying to work toward creating an environment that I can be the most successful?
Why can’t we do that for our kids?
I recognize that certain actions may cause for consequences. I truly do. But I don’t believe that the consequence itself fixes the problem. Ross Greene touches on this in his books, Lost At School and Explosive Child. We punish our kids by sending them to detention or to their rooms. But what has that done other than displace the child? Have they walked away with new skills? Did you change their environment so they won’t be triggered the next day?
As an adult, I know my trigger foods. I’m not a person of moderation. I cannot successfully keep a bag of open chips in my desk drawer. Cereal is a no-go in the house because I can’t cut myself off after one bowl. I allow myself treats, but I refuse to buy them at the grocery store and house them in my pantries because I know myself and I know I don’t have the self-control to eat them one at a time.
As an adult, I’ve figured out what foods trigger my bad behaviors. And I’ve identified how to create an environment that helps me feel happy and successful. In addition to controlling these external factors, I’ve also developed new skills along the way.
- Learning how to cook healthy foods that also taste really good. This keeps me from wanting to stop at the drive-thru on the way home.
- Knowing how to add more volume to my meals with vegetables. I’ve picked up on a few tips and tricks through meeting with dietitians or being involved in weight-loss programs.
Related Article: Working with Children with ADHD
And, while I do what I can, I also recognize that life is unpredictable and know that there will be times when every external factor can’t be controlled. Social events are always centered around food and drinks. The staff room is always filled with baked goods and other treats. I can’t control everything. So I try to apply the skills I’ve learned. Most times, it works. And then there are days when my impulses take over.
That doesn’t mean I’ve lost everything I learned. That means, sometimes, I struggle with self-control.
Just like our children.
Let’s face it. When a child is doing the same thing over and over and over again, despite your nagging warnings that they will get something taken from them, a consequence isn’t going to fix the problem. They want the dangling carrot. But, sometimes, their impulses take over and they can’t always keep their eye on the prize.
It’s time to think of different solutions. The consequences alone aren’t working. Perhaps a change in environment is needed. Or maybe they haven’t been taught a replacement behavior. Or maybe they just need help developing the skills to ask for the things they need or to “survive” the situation they’re in.
Are you using consequences and feel like they aren’t working?
Let me know in the comments. I would love to hear what works and what doesn’t work for your little one(s).