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The Most Ineffective Thing You Can Say to Your Child in the Face of Bad Behavior

Posted by Kim Stricker

What words do you use when your child says or does something inappropriate?

When my son sprayed me in the face with water recently, apparently I said, “Do it again”– and never added the time-honored parental follow-up, “ — and you’ll be in big trouble.”  So guess what?  My normally not-so-compliant son did “it” again.  Eyes laughing, he looked right at me, sprayed me in the face, and said, “What?  You said do it again.”

I quickly rewound the tape in my head (I am too old to have a DVR) and thought, “He’s right. I actually said, ‘Do it again.’”  In my shock of being surprised by my child’s actions, I left off the consequence part.  And then I thought to myself, “Aren’t those words really just a dare to kids who want to get a reaction from us?”  Of course they are. When we say things like, “One more time and I’m going to…”  or  use any words that set up a challenge, our kids will rise to it because “the game is on” in their minds.  They’re going to get the negative attention they crave.

Now I have to ask myself why in the world I still even use words like that.   I think it goes back to my childhood — when those phrases from my mom and dad actually worked more often than not.  I find that in the moment, when we parents are shocked or surprised by our child’s actions, we revert to the way our parents used to handle things — whether or not it works for our own children.

On this particular day when my son splashed me in the face, I couldn’t get mad or upset because I immediately realized he was right.  I had asked him — actually commanded him — to do it again. And he did so — joyfully.

I had to laugh.  Because it was funny — hilarious, really.  Our children are trained to respond to the words we use.  Don’t get me wrong, I took time to explain to my son that what he did was not okay afterward.  This whole experience made me realize that we have to carefully choose our words even when our kids’  behavior is inappropriate, shocking, or outrageous. Take a moment and think about it: Do the words you use with your child incite,  mediate, provoke or defuse situations? Do they help your child’s behavior improve, or do they challenge him to act out all the more?

The Total Transformation Program gives parents effective words to help to calm the levels down.  Do I always remember to use them? No.  But sometimes I find I can laugh, even when I don’t.

What do you say to your child when he or she behaves inappropriately? Have your words ever challenged your child to act out more?


About Kim Stricker

Kim Stricker is a mom to two boys, an elementary school teacher, and freelance writer. She also writes a blog called lifeslikethis about the daily experiences of raising a child with Asperger’s and ADHD.

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