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

Posted October 17, 2011 by

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?


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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  1. ana.qoo (Edit) Report

    ive a15yr son giving us all,since i got the program and seriously started following points and advices also through these articles,most effective response has been:
    ‘i donot like it ,plz don’t do it.’
    thanks to Lehman.i ve stopped feeling guilty and resposible for kids behaviour [also spouse behaviour]hence feel relax inside.i posted notes: keep in ur box..Prayers help a lot too..
    i m very thankful to team and keep every directing to site who need dealing with teens and odd kids..

  2. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    Hi Mushtaque: It can be very difficult to control your own anger, and deal with children effectively when they do not behave themselves and continue to do things they shouldn’t. You are correct that parent behavior, and controlling ourselves, has a lot to do with how effective we can be. One of the authors on this site, Debbie Pincus, talks a lot about how to calm yourself, even when your child is doing things they shouldn’t. She discusses the concept of boxes; that is, what is your job and what is your child’s. She recommends focusing on what you can control (your actions, words, and behavior) and what is your responsibility in order to maintain your calm. You cannot control what your child does; however, you have the duty to make sure that your child has some kind of effect as a result of his/her actions. I am attaching some articles by Debbie that I think you might find helpful:
    Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry
    Irresponsible Children: Why Nagging and Lecturing Don’t Work
    Good luck to you and your family as you work through this.

  3. Mushtaque (Edit) Report

    some time lots of things are geting confuse because first generaly parent Attitude or Behavior has to be good not tomuch Tampered
    specialy when comes the issue of children
    But this easy to tell some one but some child is doing noty thing again and again at that time how should we control our Angriness and how to manage all these



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