Thursday, September 20, 2012

What's a Kid to Do?

A Christmas Story

I've never known a kid who did not get in trouble. And I've known a lot of kids. Also I've had a lot of kids but that's not the point. Kids get in trouble. They get in trouble frequently and with alarming regularity. However, what most parents don't know is that you can diminish the amount of times your children cause you grief. It's true!

Now, I must first preface this information with a disclaimer. No matter how well you parent your child will misbehave. (Unless of course you've literally given birth to an angel, which chances are you haven't.) This is important information because often parents feel as if their techniques are not good enough. But that's how it goes with parenting. You can give your finest performance and still have struggles. Why is that? Well, because as long as you have children in the equation you have an unknown variable. You can control your actions but you cannot control theirs. Therefore there is no guarantee the outcome will be desirable.

But this is not to say we don't try. That is why I've identified three specific times that parents can look to avoid. With just a little attention in these areas I can almost guarantee (key word almost) you can eliminate a good portion of your children's behavior problems. 
First, look around your house. Is it safe? Are valuables put away? Are toys accessible? A good home environment is the first step in eliminating behavior problems. I know you want to display Aunt Rose's antique vase but if you don't want it broke there is only one way to protect it; put it away. If you don't want you phone in the toilet, keep it put up. It seems too easy to be true but think about it. If there is nothing lying around, then the temptation to destroy is irrelevant. 

But you want your child to learn to deal with valuables? I understand and would recommend you teach them. Sit down with young children and model the behavior  you desire. If you're not willing to supervise its use, or risk the item breaking, then don't leave it unattended.

And we're not just talking about little children. Your older kids need you to make your home safe as well. Turn off the internet at night. Monitor online viewing habits. Be aware of their conversations and text messages. Encourage healthy homework and bedtime habits. Don't leave anything unsupervised that you're not completely comfortable with. Should teenagers know better? Of course. But you remember being their age right? Remember how much trouble you found? Uh-huh. Go supervise.

Secondly, children also misbehave when they are tired. This is why I never went to the grocery store between the hours of 1:00 and 5:00 p.m., otherwise known as nap time. I would rather starve than go shopping at that bewitching hour because sleep deprivation precedes almost all behavioral issues. That's why it looked like we having fun at the local fair last week at 9:00 p.m. but the next morning, just 12 hours later, we were dragging our butts and getting a little mouthy. That's not to say my kids' behavior was an excuse, it certainly was not! But it helps me understand that their bad behavior was due to my decision to keep them out late, let them spin around on rides while doping up on funnel cakes and apple cider slush.

I mean c'mon. I was asking for it right?

Finally, children will always get in trouble if there is nothing to do. If you take your child to a three hour appointment and get frustrated because they can't sit still I'm afraid you need an expectation adjustment. It is both developmentally and physically impossible for young children to be still for long periods of time. However, you can't always avoid these scenarios either. Sometimes you must go out to eat, sit through a church service or encounter a long car ride. This is a good time for parents to do a little prompting. Keep toys and books with you as well as ideas on how to pass the time. Play games like "I Spy" or thumb wrestling, both of which require no materials. 

Keep in mind all of this falls into a very fine line. I don't believe it is a parent's responsibility to entertain a child all the time but I also know "Go play!" can be an ineffective directive as well. I do think however with a few clever, well timed tricks up our parenting sleeve we can make our job easier. There is no way we can expect to prevent every mishap but with a proactive attitude we can greatly diminish some behavior problems. And what mom or dad doesn't want that? So the next time you're tempted to discipline your child for bad behavior ask yourself if it could have been prevented with a little forethought. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

Stephanie is a Parenting Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District and will share all her what-to-do-while-your-waiting games. She can be reached at This article is a part of my Practical Parenting series the appears in the Saturday edition of The Daily Review Atlas. 

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