Whenever I am asked if my children have ever done something I was unprepared to handle, I tell this story. Anthony was almost three years old when my spouse became pregnant. We knew it was vital to prepare him for the arrival of a new baby. We wanted to avoid the dreaded effects of sibling rivalry. We read the Berenstain Bears New Baby book a dozen times. We did everything imaginable to make him feel that our new baby was also going to be his new baby. As Mom's tummy began to grow, Anthony kept a little doll tucked beneath the front of his T-shirt.
Leah's birth fascinated Anthony. He was so excited. Nearly everyone who brought a present for Leah brought one for him. It was like Christmas in May. He loved his new sister, even though he noticed that she did not have any teeth. Everything was going just as we had planned.
On Leah's sixth day home, it happened. Anthony hopped out of the bathtub. His rosy skin smelled like soap and baby powder. He asked if he could have an apple. I said sure. He reappeared a few moments later and placed one hand on the back of my chair while holding the apple in the other.
"Dad, I think I'm in trouble."
"What for?" I asked.
"Well, when I was getting my apple, I accidentally peed in the refrigerator."
"You're right," I said. "You are in trouble."
What We Want
My children create many challenging situations. Occasionally I am amused. Often I feel frustrated and discouraged. Sometimes I feel embarrassed and guilty. Our children are a measure of our success and worthiness. We judge ourselves by their success and achievements. We compare ourselves to other parents, and compare our children to other children. Have you ever watched people buy apples? We rotate each apple looking for a blemish. We hold it up to the light, examining the reflection. We squeeze each one for firmness. We study each competitor looking for the perfect apple.
Parents want perfect apples. We want successful children, happy and well adjusted. We want them to feel good about themselves. We want children who are loving and respectful of others, well behaved, and self-motivated. We want them to be independent-not still living with us when they are thirty. All parents have the same goals and aspirations.
What We Have
Most parents confront the same behavior problems. We become annoyed repeating everything three times. We spend too much time arguing. We become drained from the nagging and whining and manipulating and quarreling, and exhausted from shouting and threatening. At times, it seems that all we do is punish. We feel guilty for getting angry, but it appears to be the only way to get results. We blame ourselves and feel ineffective for not knowing what to do. There are times when we dislike our children because their misbehavior makes us feel so inadequate and miserable.
Raising well-behaved children is not easy. Many parents fail not because they are inadequate or because they lack love for their children or because they want something less than the best for their children, but because they are inconsistent. They procrastinate. They give warnings but do not follow through. They say things they do not mean. They lack patience. They punish in anger. Unsuccessful parents attend to the negative rather than the positive. They criticize too much. Parents who have discipline problems do not plan. They do not realize that they can be part of the problem.
Parents are part of the problem because of their patterns of reaction. Parents usually react in one of two ways. Sometimes parents react passively; they give in to misbehavior because they do not feel like confronting the problem, at least not right then. You will learn why giving in makes misbehavior worse. Sometimes parents react with anger. You can also learn how reacting with anger makes misbehavior worse.
Reprinted from How to Behave so Your Children Will, Too! by Sal Severe by permission of Viking Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Sal Severe. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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