February 17, 2010

parenting 104

Be creative. Be smart. Be consistent.

I heard a story one time about a single mom whose teenage son continually lied to her. She was at her wit's end with him when she decided to do something drastic: She would turn the tables on him, AND, she would do it for a full two weeks. She began at breakfast one morning as he was getting ready to catch the school bus. "Honey," she said, "How 'bout I pick you up today?" The kid was thrilled because that meant he didn't have to ride the bus, AND he would be home a half hour earlier. Then she didn't pick him up. Now because he had already missed his bus, he had to walk home. When he confronted his mom, she simply said, "Oh, I changed my mind." He ranted about how unfair that was and did she know he'd had to WALK home? She apologized flippantly. The next day she promised him pizza for dinner - his choice of toppings. Instead, she went out with friends and left him a note to fix himself a sandwich. She told him she was going to buy him new shoes . . . she bought herself some instead and said his would have to wait until next paycheck. She got creative. By the 5th or 6th day the kid had all he could take. "MOM! You are driving me crazy! You keep telling me all this stuff and then you don't do it! You are being so unfair! How am I ever supposed to know if you mean what you say?!" Mom looked him square in the eye and said, "It's really hard to trust someone who never tells the truth, huh?" The kid got the point. But mom continued HER bad behavior for the remainder of the 14 days. Her son, however, learned the consequences of lying and began to be a kid who could be trusted.

Then there was the 15-year-old girl who kept missing the school bus. (She was embarrassed about having to ride the bus.) Her family was a one-car family and dad had to be at work on the other side of town at the same time she had to be at school. So, when she missed the bus, dad had to take her, which meant he risked being late for work. This had to stop. Her parents told her she could not miss the bus again or she would be responsible for getting herself to school. A few days later she missed the bus. She asked dad for a ride. Dad reminded her of the rule. "WHAT? That's not fair! Just how am I supposed to get myself to school???" Dad pulled out the phonebook, flipped to the yellow pages and stately flatly, "Call a cab." Which she did. Expecting a yellow New York City-style taxi to pull up, she was mortified at the reality. This was not a large town, so the cabs were beat up old station wagons with less-than-reputable drivers. (An uneasy Dad followed the cab to school that morning without her knowing it.) The cab was not only more embarrassing than riding the bus, it also cost her $22 of her own money. She never again missed the bus.

My favorite story of consistency is actually about lab rats. The experiment was simple: Build a maze, put a lever at the back that distributes a food pellet. Two mazes were built. The rats entered, made their way to the lever, pulled it, got rewarded with food. They were allowed to do this on a regular basis. Then one day things changed. In maze one, food pellets were only distributed once every 100 pulls. In maze two, food pellets were stopped completely. Result? The rat in maze one continued to run the maze and pull the lever every single time. He never quit hoping for the reward. The rat in maze two tried for awhile and then quit trying. Completely. How does this relate to parenting? Consistency. If you give in, EVEN ONCE out of every 100 times, your kids will keep trying and keep trying because they know, eventually, you will give in, and they will get what they want.

I personally put this "rat maze concept" into practice with my two little darlings in the grocery store check-out aisle. Every time we would check out they would ask if they could "have something" - gum, candy, mini-flashlights, whatever. I ALMOST ALWAYS said "no". Remember: ALMOST always. And yet they ALWAYS asked. So I made a rule: IF YOU ASK FOR SOMETHING IN THE CHECK-OUT AISLE, THE ANSWER IS AUTOMATICALLY "NO". The next time we went to the store, they asked. I said "no", and reminded them of the rule. It didn't take long for them to catch on that mommy meant "no" when she said "no". This had a two-fold benefit: 1) I never, ever got nagged in the check-out aisle, and 2) occasionally, I would look at my kids and say, "Why don't you pick out something today?" This resulted in "yippee!" and "yeah!" and "You're the best mommy ever!"

And, isn't being the 'coolest mom ever' one of the best by-products parenting?


darlingjourney said...

I use your last example all the time with parents. The problem is they think it won't work for them BUT I believe if they are consistent it WILL work for them.

Kacey Leigh said...

You're just afraid I'm gonna be a bad mommy.

Yep, that's it.