The kids continue to splash, bigger and louder.
Mom: I said, stop splashing. Finish washing your hands and clean up the water.
The kids are having so much fun. They ignore their mother.
Mom: You are both going to spend the night in your room with no TV.
The girl yells at her brother to stop. He splashes her. She cries.
Mom: That’s it. I’m going to count to five. By five you had better be away from that sink.
Mom: One . . .
Susie splashes water at Jimmy, trying to get back at him for not stopping.
Mom with a bit more tension: Two . . .
Jimmy hits his sister. Susie begins to cry
Mom growls: Three . . .
The kids are both yelling. Susie bites Jimmy. He shoves his sister hard.
Mom louder with warning in her voice: Fooo-uuur . . .
The kids finally think that Mom is serious. They know a threat is looming. Threats can lead to punishment. They are scared of losing something, like dessert or TV after dinner. The sink play was fun but not fun enough to be worth losing something. And now it’s not even fun anymore. So, the children get quieter, but are still managing to say mean things to one another.
Mom, shouting: FIVE!!
The kids step away from the sink.
Have you seen this scenario? No, I haven’t been in your home. 🙂 But plenty like this.
The counting becomes a repetitive strategy for the mother. She thinks that the counting was effective. But specifically effective at what? What are the kids learning? And at what cost?
For one, they learn to fear their mother. She is more powerful and they had better do what she says or else. They react not from a relationship built on trust and respect but one of fear. The counting, which holds a threat behind it, contributes to this.
Second, the climate is one of disrespect. For all three of them.
Third, they have learned NOT to listen to their mother’s voice the first time. They have learned to disregard what the parent is requesting or telling until they go through the script and hear the end of the count.
What can a parent do instead of counting?
They can teach the child to respond to the parent’s voice on the first time. Some parents think that this won’t be possible. True, the kids may have not done this yet. But, remember, they have learned to ignore the parent’s voice until the counting begins. If a child responds at the end of the count, why not just have them respond the first time the parent speaks?
Here’s a different scenario:
Mom to the two kids who are drawing at the table: From now on, I want you to listen to my voice on the FIRST TIME.
Kids look up puzzled.
Mom: I won’t be counting anymore. I’ll tell you one time what I need to tell you.
The older boy: So, if we don’t listen, we’ll get punished sooner?
Mom: If you don’t respond to my voice, we’ve got a bigger problem of not respecting each other. We might need to stay home from extra activities for a few days so we can practice as a family.
Both kids: Oh, no. I don’t want to miss (fill in the blank: dance, soccer, play practice, sleep-over.)
Mom: Okay, let’s practice now. Dinner is in 30 minutes. In 15 minutes, you can both set the table.
Fast forwad. In 15 minutes, the kids set table.
No one has been threatened. There is no punishment. No yelling, cajoling. No tears.
How does it work in your house? Is this an issue? Have frustrations ever escalated around children not listening? Have you found a way that your children respect your voice on the first time? It would be great to hear from in the comment box below.