Positive Discipline is a popular parenting program that teaches the establishment of firm boundaries, clear expectations, and mutual respect. Even if these are all in place and you’d never dream of corporal punishment, there are still a million ways to fail. Here are just a few of the ones that went gloriously bad at my house.
1) Follow all parenting advice literally. Janet Lansbury says, “A toddler learns discipline best when he experiences natural consequences for his behavior, rather than a disconnected punishment like time-out. If a child throws food, mealtime is over.” Follow this advice. Your children will throw their food every time you make vegetables. Does your kid drink her bathwater? Natural + consequence = herbal cleanse.
2) Do bad math. Dr. Thomas Phelan, of 1-2-3 Magic.com, claims to have the no-frills answer to raising kids “who listen and are enjoyable.” Count infractions (tantrums, yelling, ignoring instructions, etc.). One and two are warnings; three is straight to timeout. This method works unless you are playing Candy Crush Saga. Then, say, “That’s 2,” over and over again until your child reminds you, “No, mommy, that’s three!”
3) Be clueless. Are your children throwing tantrums, running around in circles, bouncing off the walls, throwing cups of juice, pulling out their own hair, and generally acting sleep deprived? Threaten them with sleep! When they wearily trudge to their twin beds, check your phone. Yep. It is twenty minutes past bedtime.
4) Abuse fables and fairy tales. “Martin Luther King died so you could go to school with White children, so when you hit them in class you’re setting the race back." "You tore a book at school today; do you know how much Frederick Douglass would have loved a Peter Pan book if only he were allowed to read?" "You let the water run and now Princess Ariel might dehydrate and there go the mermaids.”
5) Resolve conflict with “I” statements. “When I first saw you on that ultrasound, your tiny fist in your mouth, I imagined a life of bliss. Now I’m wondering if I was being delusional. I never imagined that I would be hit with basketballs, yelled at, tortured with inappropriate waste expulsion, or shown general emotional disregard.” Blank stare? You’ve done your job. If she covers her ears and yells, “TOP TALKING!!!”...cry.
6) Give confusing rewards. Tell your children too much candy is not good for them. Tell your children that using the potty is good for them, as diapers cause skin deterioration-- especially after the age of seven. Then reward your children for using the potty by giving them candy. They’re confused, you’re confused, but everyone’s happy.
7) Reverse timeout. Instead of going through the work of dragging a kicking, screaming toddler into the timeout chair, just close your bedroom door and put yourself in timeout. Super Nanny says that timeout should last one minute per year of your age. If you’re a young mom, meditate. If you’re in your thirties or forties, take a nap. When you open your door, a trail of toilet paper will lead you to the new crayon wall art, lotion-smeared television, and juice-stained couch. Are the kids having fun? Repeat.
8) Threaten with abstractions. Ask, “Do you want a spanking?” Having never received one, your child will probably say “Yes, please!” Children assume that every word they don’t know means candy. Not eating those vegetables? Ask, “Do you want rickets?” Again, they will answer in the affirmative because rickets sounds like Reese’s sounds like candy.
9) Be stumped. Invoke Santa on December 26th. "Do you know that Santa can still turn his reindeer around and pick up all of these toys and take them to children who are behaving?" Your child may say, “No he can’t Mommy. I opened them already.” When your child figures out those ridiculous threats are empty, that the warning count never goes past 2 in public, that they have no allegiance to the martyred or the mermaid, and that you’re actually venting rather than establishing boundaries, they’ll play you in ways that may be adorable tomorrow. Make a mental note of that as you’re stumped and frustrated tonight.
10) Be human. To be a human parent is to have a child who isn’t always an enjoyable listener; to not always be an enjoyable listener; to ride the wave of hits and misses until you are sick, drunk, or giddy in the knowledge that perfection was never attainable and the pursuit was supposed to be fun. To be a human parent is to give your children fodder for their future therapists so that one day, they too can discover that all of life, every moment, was about a grace as sweet and abundant as candy.
Asha French is a writer and mother living in Atlanta. Tweet her: @afrenchwriter