This probably sounds more like advice for a sporting endeavor rather than parenting advice, although I could make a good case that parenting is a sporting event. What I am really speaking about here is the need to set things up as much as possible so that kids are able to do what we want them to rather than waiting until they mess up so we can punish them.
For example, if Mark always runs away from his mom when she takes him with her to the grocery store, why does she take him with her? When I ask mom that, she is likely to tell me that she doesn’t have any other choice or that he begged to come with her and promised he wouldn’t do it this time. While sometimes there really is no other choice, most of the time we can come up with other options such as paying a babysitter, trading off babysitting with a friend or family member, or asking someone else to pick up what you need from the store. Believing Mark’s promise is a setup for failure.
Consider Bethany who generally irritates and annoys her playmates in the first 30 minutes when they get together because of her bossiness and tantrums. Her mom and dad know this, but continue to schedule play dates for her and allow her to play for extended periods of time with only intermittent supervision until the real fighting and yelling starts between Bethany and her friends.
In both of these cases, the parents need to take a more active role in supervision and decision-making. The case of Bethany may be a bit easier. Bethany’s parents need to schedule shorter playtimes until Bethany can demonstrate that she can handle extended visits from her friends. Bethany’s parents also need to remain present to actively supervise Bethany’s play and teach her better ways to interact with her peers. Think of the teaching, interacting, limit-setting, and supervision as the offensive plan for more prosocial behavior in Bethany’s future. Of course the goal is to gradually decrease the amount of parental intervention, but only when she is ready to handle it.
For Mark, mom may need to set up situations in which she takes him with her, but has planned for a clear exit at the first sign of his misbehavior. Expectations are reviewed prior to going into the store. If he breaks a rule, mom takes him out of the store immediately and he experiences consequences as soon as possible. He is not allowed to try again for at least the next 5 visits mom makes to the store. A visual chart to show him how long he must wait because of his behavior might be helpful. Alternatively, someone else could be designated to remove Mark from the store and take him home to wait for mom while she continues shopping. Again, Mark experiences consequences immediately for his behavior and is not allowed to try again for a specified time.
In both of these cases, there is significant pre-planning and energy on the parents’ part. You may also see these as punishments, and in some sense you would be right. For Mark, there are definite consequences for misbehavior, but he is not allowed to continue bad behavior once it begins. Further, there is a predetermined plan for dealing with the anticipated behavior rather than a blind hope that it won’t occur again this time. For Bethany, there is an emphasis on more structure and limits that acknowledges her current level of function and does not allow her the opportunity to exceed her ability to cope.
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