As a pediatrician, I’ve read a book or five hundred on parenting and child development. So if any of you have sons who don’t spew the sewage you’re about to read, then please, tell me which book I’ve missed.
As much as I hate to admit it, the following conversation occurred during a recent Rubin family game of progressive rummy. Welcome to our kitchen table. Your cards are waiting…
Youngest Teen Son, holding up a single playing card: “Hmm, what should I do with this one?”
Oldest Teen Son: “Put it in your anus.”
Father: “Is the three of spades down?”
Youngest Teen Son: “No, but the three of anal discharge is.”
Mother, looking at each of her children in horror and then to the father in despair: “Exactly what did we raise here?”
Oldest Teen Son: “You raised pubic hair.”
Father, oblivious to the verbal diarrhea around him: “What hand is this?”
Oldest Teen Son: “A set of three and a run of pubes.”
Mother: “Hey, let’s stop all this—“
Youngest Teen Son, folding up his cards in frustration: “Oh, ball sacs!”
Ah, jealous yet? Go ahead. I dare you to tell me your boys are offal-free…
But Let’s Get Serious For A Moment
Recently I came across an article in USA Today entitled Parents: Yelling and Swearing at Teens Can Backfire. Based on a study, the piece suggests “Harsh verbal discipline increases the risk teens will misbehave and exhibit symptoms of depression.”
Hmm, seems like a no-brainer to me. After all, who benefits from being screamed at?
That’s not to say discipline isn’t vital (or that we’ll never lose our temper and yell). Indeed, discipline must start early, occur frequently, and never let up. And as with many things, consistency remains key. If you make a threat, you must follow through. So only make threats you can keep, because if you say, “If you pinch your brother again, we won’t go camping next weekend,” then you better be prepared to stay home.
But one thing on which I often counseled families is that discipline doesn’t have to carry a negative connotation. Positive reinforcement counts as discipline, and in fact, is usually much more successful at generating good behavior.
For example, to a toddler who played quietly while her mother viewed a webinar, she might say, “Wow, you colored so quietly while I finished my work that you and I will play a game tonight.” Or read an extra book, or go to the park, or whatever a fun, non-food reward is. To a young child, one-on-one time with a non-distracted parent is like gold.
To a teen who has consistently done his homework the past week, a father might say, “Son, I am so proud of the way you’ve tackled your homework without being told. For that, you can have two extra hours of video-game time this weekend.”
That doesn’t mean one should coddle a child over every tiny accomplishment. That’s not fair to the child or society. But by parents consistently recognizing children’s good behavior—and being specific in their praise—kids will strive to please even more. Much like adults are motivated to work harder when their efforts are recognized.
Yes, there will be tantrums. There will be moodiness. There will be outright disobedience. That’s where the negative discipline comes in (in a non-corporal fashion).
But there will be less of the negative behaviors if we catch our children being good.
Of course, they might still spew offal. As parents, we must pick and choose our battles.
After all, if I outlawed potty talk, this blog post wouldn’t exist…