Parents say this to me in whispers and then draw back into themselves waiting to be judged. They just KNOW that I’m either going to rip into them about the name calling or agree that the behaviors are so bad and therefor the parenting must be equally BAD!
Instead, I ask some questions about how that child interacts with the world.
- Does your child accept adult authority? (No)
- Does your child ask questions about why things are right or wrong? (Yes)
- Is your child loud and outspoken when they feel the situation is unfair? (Oh yeah)
- Will your child repeat behaviors that you’ve yelled and screamed at them for? (yup)
- Do you ever feel like you have a little mobster in your house and it’s all about quid pro quo? (you scratch my back, your back gets scratched.)
- Does your child attempt to talk to you as a fellow adult? (Yes)
- Do they like to negotiate even when they’ve got nothing? (lawyers, every one)
- Do they follow some rules and toss others that they are fully aware of? (and they can even tell you about the rule they ignored.)
- Can they tell you the negative consequences that may happen but still seem oblivious to them? (You’ll notice they sing song out the negatives while rolling their eyes)
- Do they tell you when they feel you have broken a rule? (With unholy glee.)
If you recognize your child from these questions, I’m going to guess they think about the world differently than you do and that you are extremely frustrated with them. I can help. You have a Transactional Child. Their world is made up of;
- What’s in it for me?
- Why is it right or wrong?
- What use is it?
- If I’m supposed to listen to you, what makes you the expert?
- Why are you in charge and not me?
- Does this make sense?
- Is this consistent?
Your child does not adhere to rules because it’s the right thing to do. That phrase doesn’t even mean anything to them. They adhere to rules because the consequences for breaking them are logical, consistent in when and how they happen, and fair. But now you’re ready to tell me that you’ve been doing that, all the time, and it doesn’t work! And I’m going to tell you to get out of your own way. It is a brutal truth that a transactional child will never get the point if your emotions are clouding everything up.
If you are handing out consequences while angry, then your child is receiving two different messages. The first one is how stealing all those cookies leads to a cookie drought in their immediate future. Important stuff. The second message is about your anger. Guess which one is more important to your child. The anger. You might as well be talking like one of Charlie Brown’s teachers. Even if your child can parrot back what you’re saying, she isn’t getting it. She’s dialed into your emotional state and desperately trying to remain still so you don’t get any worse. If that doesn’t work, she may start acting out since there’s no hope to calm this down anyway. Because if all is lost, why not go out in a blaze of glory?
Try to imagine this from your child’s point of view. He eats the cookies, all the cookies. Your emotional response is frustrated, you ask him questions he can’t answer and you talk about being disappointed. All of this is confusing and hurtful, but has no logical connection to the particular action of eating all the cookies. Then he does it again. Now you’re ANGRY, you yell things he’s not really listening to, you point out other members of the family that are angry at him and you wonder aloud if he will be a good person when he grows up. He did the same action each time. You did not. Even if there were logical consequences for the misdeed, he can’t see them through the cloud of different emotional reactions.
Emotions cloud the connections. Every. Time. If you can get this, you will make your life 10 times easier and it can happen overnight.
So let’s revisit the cookie incident. Little Janie sneaks into the kitchen at night and eats all the homemade cookies. She wakes up the next morning with a terrible tummy ache and you know immediately what happened. And now, you will be the better mob enforcer.
The enforcer from the movies who makes sure everybody knows, it’s nothing personal. This does not ruin your day, because you are just here to hand out consequences without emotion and then move on.
“Janie you ate all the cookies and now you feel crummy!” “Oh dear, and now you’re lying to me about it when I already know what happened. That must be very frustrating for you.” “So here’s the deal kid, you stole all my cookies. So now I’m going to take one of your Polly Pockets for every cookie of mine that you took. I don’t really want your Polly Pockets and I’m not even sure what I’ll do with them, I’m still taking them. You stole your brother’s cookies too. He gets to pick a small toy of yours for every cookie of his that you took, because that’s fair.”
In order for this to work, you MUST sound calm. Try for Mary Poppins about to go out for her day off. I know you’ll want to make this important by infusing it with lots of emotions. DON’T!!! No matter what emotions your child throws around, remain calm and serene. Stick to consequences that are logically connected to the bad behavior. Make sure the consequences are small enough to be immediately enforceable and easy for you to carry out. Hammer of God! only works for God. If you aren’t Him, keep the consequences small and the voice tone to Fred Rogers.
Most parents think I’m crazy until this works. They also think it sounds MEAN. Because no matter what your child feels, you need to still be calm, serene, and OK for the rest of your day. Emotions cannot be consequences if you want a healthy relationship with your child. If you’ve accidentally taught them that your negative feelings are the end product of their behavior, they’re going to throw that back at you now. Hey! Dad yells and throws his emotions at me when I do stuff he doesn’t like. I can do that too!
Consequences work, loud important emotions just get in the way.
Kids like yours do not think about the world in terms of right/wrong and chains of command. So when you tell them, “Because I said so!” You just made no sense to them. What will work, every time, is calmly delivered consequences that logically fit the bad behavior.
Stay tuned next week when I’ll explain why so many of these kids repeat negative behaviors and how to counteract that too. This will actually be a series of posts on dealing with the child that thinks in transactional terms so you can both keep your sanity.
Stay calm, and be sure to ask any questions you have in the comments below.
Attributions: @markheybo Norwich Street Art; Why do you do this?, floodllama Mobsters, Jeremy Rivera Mr. Rogers in a Bear Suit. All from Flickr with a CC license.