The Day I Broke Mr. Winter’s Rule

The Day I Broke Mr. Winter’s Rule

I was talking to a friend recently. She’s an experienced probation officer in a juvenile court working with delinquent teens on probation.

“Why don’t these kids listen to me when I tell them that if they fail to follow the probation rules there will be unpleasant consequences?” she asked.

“I take many these kids back to court for violation of probation hearings,” she said. “Sometimes their probation is extended and sometimes they get locked up in the detention center. Even though, I carefully go over the probation rules with them, the funny thing is that many of these teenagers tell me they didn’t believe it could happen to them.”

As I tried to answer my friend’s question, I remembered something that happened to me in the fourth grade. Mr. Winters was my fourth grade teacher and one of his rules was that you walked quietly down the wooden steps that led from the playground into our lower-level classroom.

I was well aware of this rule because I saw some of my classmates get punished for breaking this rule. I figured the rule applied to other children, but not to me. After all, I was a good student. I got good grades.  I helped Mr. Winters by taking messages down to the office and doing other chores for him.

So, one day I stomped down the wooden steps making a great racket. Mr. Winters was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps.

“You’ll be staying in class for the rest of the week doing extra homework instead of going out for recess,” Mr. Winters announced to me.

“But that’s not fair,” I protested. “I was just playing around.”

“You broke my rule,” he said simply, but firmly. I knew there was no point in arguing further.

I found out that day that Mr. Winters’ rules applied to everyone – even me. I also learned he didn’t play favorites. It didn’t matter that I helped him clean the blackboards earlier that day or that he liked me. If you broke one of Mr. Winters’ rules, there would be consequences.

I never forgot the lesson I learned that day. And I never had to test out one of Mr. Winters’ rules ever again.

Maybe that’s the problem for many adolescents that my friend works with in the juvenile court. Perhaps these kids never had a Mr. Winters in their life. Nor did they have parents who set rules with consistent consequences. I have no doubt that for many of the teens who wind up on probation live in homes in which the rules and the consequences shift from day to day, depending on their parents’ whims or moods.

I’ve come across many parents over the course of my career who do not want their kids to be mad at them. Or they can’t tolerate the temporary anger – sometimes even the momentary hatred – that results when children are given a consequence when they break a rule or violate an established limit. Some of these parents who end up being permissive just want to be popular with their kids and often feel guilty when they hold their children accountable.

Fortunately, Mr. Winters wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. He didn’t care that day whether I was emotionally hurt or that I might not like him for the rest of that day. He had the wisdom to know that teaching a lesson about rules and consequences was far more important than worrying about whether a student liked him.

Which is why my friend, the probation officer, has to be the person in a lot of teenager’s lives who finally says, “You broke the rules, now you have to pay the consequences.” If no one else is going to enforce rules and limits, she must.

It’s too bad more children don’t have a Mr. Winters in their life when they are young. If they had a Mr. Winters, then they would learn valuable lessons long before they became adolescents and before they were forced to learn one of life’s important lessons the hard way.

Some Children are Masterful at Exploiting Loopholes in Your Rules

Some Children are Masterful at Exploiting Loopholes in Your Rules

 At age eight, Shane has become adept at detecting loopholes in the rules given him by his parents.

For example, the rule was that he couldn’t go to Robert’s house without permission. When his father found out he had been at Robert’s house earlier in the day, Shane had an argument.

“You said I couldn’t go to Robert’s house,” Shane said. “You didn’t say anything about his front yard and that’s where I was. I was standing in his front yard.”

When they sense a loophole, some school-age children between ages six and 12 will try to take advantage of the situation. This can lead to frustration for parents and sometimes useless arguments.

“That’s not fair that I’m being punished,” nine-year-old Samantha complains. “I didn’t hit my brother like you said…I pushed him.”

Many school-age children, whether they are more challenging kids or not, will try to debate every issue. For instance, when Eric got in trouble at school for squirting juice on a girl during lunch, he debated his mother about whether it was intentional or not.

“I was just pretending to zap her with a ray gun,” Eric contended. “It wasn’t my fault the juice squirted out of the box!”

And they may try to keep the argument going so they can avoid taking responsibility and doing the right thing. If they can wear you down, they have won and they will find ways to get away with more in the future.

When his mother found a watch in Robby’s room, she asked him where it came from. “This girl at school gave it to me,” Robby said.

His mother said she didn’t believe a girl had given him the watch and she said that if he took things that didn’t belong to him that was the same as stealing. “But I didn’t steal it,” Robby argued. “She didn’t want it any more, because I found it on the floor.” No matter what his mother said, Robby had an answer.

While all children need to have rules clearly stated, this is even more important for the difficult child, as youngsters like Shane and Robby are capable of fairly complex reasoning and are able to remember whatever contradictory things you may have told him “before.”

It is equally important to be certain in your own mind what rules and expectations are reasonable. With the more challenging child, you cannot appear to be unsure or insecure.

For kids like Shane, Samantha, Robby, and Eric, I’ve developed the acronym S.M.I.L.E. Because firmness and consistency are so important in effectively dealing with those school-age kids who like to debate issue, S.M.I.L.E may help on occasion to save a prolonged debate or argument.

The S in S.M.I.L.E. stands for “Say what you mean.” That indicates that you have to be very clear in indicating the rules, limits, and expectations. Don’t provide any loopholes for your argumentative child.

The M stands for: “Mean what you say.” You have to be very sure that when you set out a rule or lay out your expectations that you mean it. You have to be willing to stick to the rule.

The I stands for: “Insure that you’re the same every day.” It’s not enough to be clear, reasonable, and firm on your good days. You have to be firm and consistent in what you say every day.

The L stands for: “Let your child experience the consequences.” In other words, it’s not just a matter of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. You also have to be willing to back it up. For many children, this means allowing them to experience the consequence of breaking a rule or violating an expectation.

The E stands for: “Empower yourself to be a consistent and firm parent.” Give yourself the permission and power to be a parent who believes in the limits, rules, and expectations you provide for your child.

Consistency, firmness, and monitoring are very important in order to be effective in dealing with a child who is demanding, exploitative, argumentative, and persistent. Children who know their parents will stand firm and will enforce rules are less likely to even try to talk you into making an exception “just this once.”

When Children are Out of Control, Only Four Things Need to Change

When Children are Out of Control, Only Four Things Need to Change

When parents complain that their young children are out of control, there are usually some very predictable things going on.

For instance, Camille, the mother of two boys, ages three and five, was a parent who said that her children were so bad they were making her crazy.

“They start fighting with each other as soon as they get up in the morning,” Camille said. “But things get worse as the day goes on. The boys throw food at mealtimes, demand different things to eat than what I’ve prepared, break their boys, refuse to help when it’s time to put their toys away, and they never go to bed on time.”

Camille added that by the time they do go to sleep at night, she is very angry with them, she feels like a bad mother, and she wonders what she is doing wrong.

Like other mothers and fathers who say their kids are out of control, Camille explains that she’s tried “everything.”

“I’ve tried being nice to them and tried using rewards,” she said. “I tried time-out and I even spanked them. But nothing works for more than a couple of days and then they are back to being disobedient, naughty children.”

There are several predictable elements in Camille’s situation which I see in other families with poorly behaved children. The common aspects are these:

      1. Children who have taken advantage of a parent who has tried to be loving and kind.

      2. Parents who have failed to be consistent in applying discipline.

      3. Parenting approaches in which rules and limits are not firmly enforced.

      4. A lack of structure and routine.

When parents recognize these elements and take measures to change them, they can gain control of their children and create a more normal home life. But to gain the control and begin to change their children’s behavior, they have to make sure they change the four elements given above.

The first step is to look at how the children have taken advantage of you. Often, I see that parents who have lost control have tried to be “nice and loving,” but instead become doormats for their children. Some of these parents seem to equate being loving with being passive and allowing the children to make too many decisions. To correct this, there must be a change in attitude and approach.

In this first step, you have to give yourself an attitude re-adjustment. By recognizing that your passivity and attempts to be nice have gotten you in this situation, you can reverse this by adopting more of a “get tough” attitude and demeanor. It doesn’t mean you are not loving, but it does mean you are tired of being pushed around and you are going to be less “nice” and take on more of a no-nonsense approach.

A good place to start is to write and print out a list of basic rules. Once you have done that, read them to the children and tell them that they must follow these rules or there will be consequences.

The second step is to expect that one (or all) of your children will test you almost immediately.  If you anticipate this, you can be ready. You must be ready to crack down on the first violator of a rule. This must be done quickly and firmly. The consequence may not matter, as long as it is not harsh or cruel. It could be time-out or a removal of a privileges or desired activities. And you are to carry this out with calmness and an attitude that tells your children that you are now in control – of them and yourself. The message should be clear: You are no longer Mr. or Mrs. Nice Guy. You are taking back control of the house.

The next step is to monitor their behavior and provide immediate consequences for all violations. That’s where the consistency comes in. You do not let things slide. There will be consequences for every rule violation.

Finally, don’t worry about your kids thinking that you are mean. If they have to think that at first, that’s to your advantage. When they obey the rules and do what you expect of them, then you can provide fun activities, hugs, and verbal praise. In the meantime, you are no longer going to give them the usual opportunities to take advantage of you.