How children try to give us the problem

Children are good at psyching us out. They quickly learn which strategy is most likely to succeed. Suppose we are prone to feeling guilty.

We smoked a cigarette when we were pregnant. We accidentally left our child on the bus when they were two months old. We gave them juice bottles and found out later that it can rot their teeth. Now we harbour deep feelings of guilt and remorse. This means that we are an easy mark for the sulking child. They pull a pout, drop a lip, blink back a tear and we buy them anything.

Other parents are fearful of conflict and so easy marks for Tantrum Kid. They have noticed our reaction to their original tantrum (the free one, that all kids have). They now have ‘got it down’ and watch closely for audience response as they bring in extra effects — the dribble on the floor, head banging, hyperventilation and bugged-out eyes.

Other parents are peace-and-quiet lovers, ripe for blasting by The Whinger. This child knows how to pitch their voice at just the right level for total irritation.

Or we are protective and proud of our understanding and empathic ways. A good match for little Miss/Master Cute-and-Shy. They are too ‘scared’ to do anything or try anything, so we do it all for them. A real hit with grandparents.

We’re being a bit mean here. Kids are beautiful and creative, and they all do most of these things from time to time. It only becomes a problem if the behaviour gets out of hand, which is only if we let them get away with it too often. So what are the alternatives? ‘Stand and think’

This is a discipline method which really works. The aim is to train children in how to behave. We don’t want them to be wimps or bullies. We want them to get their needs met and get along with other people.

Somehow, at this age, children have to learn how to stop themselves — to wait their turn, not hit another child or give up on something they aren’t going to get. We have to provide firmness on the outside, so that they can develop it on the inside. Old approaches tended to punish rather than train. Parents would usually follow a time-honoured sequence of deteriorating control: 1. Ask sweetly. 2. Ask firmly (but with a quavering voice). 3. Ask angrily. 4. Threaten to hit. 5. Hit. 6. Feel terrible.