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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Growing good men and competent women, part 2: Making kids behave

This is the second part of a series about the long-term consequences of our parenting decisions. You can read the first part here: The problem with pink and blue

Everybody's in such a hurry.

A hurry to get everyone up and dressed and fed. A hurry to get to work. A hurry to get home, get the kids fed, bathed, to sleep.

A hurry to turn those kids into polite, caring, clever, well-educated, successful adults.

Here is the news:


That is what my partner used to say to me when I owned a little restaurant, and I had orders coming out of my ears and deadlines everywhere I turned and five things on the stove and six in the oven and ten more to prepare NOW without letting everything burn.

It takes as long as it takes.

That always helped me, because I was often trying to do the unreasonable, and sometimes the impossible. And it wasn't a national disaster if someone had to wait another ten minutes for their food, if that food was delicious. Some things can't be hurried if you want them to turn out well. And growing good adults is one of them.

Breathe. Slow down. Lower the bar a little. Remember love, and laughter, and respect? Those are the ways to 'make kids behave'. Trying to rush the process is a recipe for disaster.

I didn't 'make them' clean up. I included them in the whole process, and
modelled cooking and cleaning up for days beforehand.


Here's what happens when we try to hurry our children into being behavioural or intellectual adults.


When we try to make them polite in a hurry, we forget to be polite to them. We model blind obedience. "Say sorry/thank you/please because I told you to. Not because you feel it in your heart. Stop listening to what you feel, and do as I say!"

We might not say those words... but we don't need to; the message is clear.

That's dehumanising. It leaves no room for what the child is feeling or thinking themselves. Good manners can only be taught by modelling over a long, long time. If you want well-mannered children, be well-mannered yourself- to them and to others.

And talk to your children about why you want to say thank you to someone for the flowers, the gift, the gesture that took up their time. "I'm going to ring up Marie and say thank you for the flowers, because they're making me feel happy inside and I want her to know that so she feels happy inside too."

Talk to your children about why you're going to say sorry to their dad. "I got really angry this morning and yelled at Daddy. I think I hurt his feelings, so I'm going to say sorry."

Those sorts of manners are catching. This is what I mean by a respectful attitude to your children. You're not kow-towing to their every whim- that's not respect!- and you're not treating them as though they know more than you- that's not realistic. What you're doing is believing they can understand what's going on, if you take the time to explain it in simple language. You're including them in the emotional dynamics of your life. You're being truthful and open. Truth and openness breeds truth and openness. Manners breed manners- good or bad.

As for saying sorry because I told you to... that just breeds insincerity.


Children love pushing boundaries, don't they? It's what they're programmed to do. They need to find the edges of acceptable behaviour as part of their emotional development.

That's why being consistent is so important. That's why learning to endure a tantrum is so important. You can't be in a hurry! It takes time (and hideously demanding amounts of patience).

If you say 'no' to a lollypop at the supermarket checkout for five minutes while your child whines... and then give in to stop the whining because you just can't stand it for one more MOMENT, you can be certain that your child will start exactly the same performance next time round and drive you to the edge of crazy all over again. You moved the boundary! If you want them to find the edges, keep those edges still!

When they say 'BUT I WANNA LOLLY! for the fifteenth time, you say 'Asked and answered' for the fifteenth time. When they lie in the aisle screaming, you stand there saying calmly 'You don't like my answer. You're angry and sad. Let me know when you feel better.' Aaaaaand breathe. Aaaaaaaand smile at the rude people who stare or make a comment, and say 'I'm just waiting this one out. Next time she/he'll understand better that no means no.'

And NO, you don't smack them to 'make them behave' or 'give them something to cry about'. Not if you want to grow a good man, or a competent woman.

Why not smack? Because then you're teaching them that you can control other people with pain and fear.

Think about that.

You can control other people with pain and fear.

That's what smacking teaches. That's what you're doing to your child. Do you want to be part of that? Do you want to teach that lesson?

When your child tries to do that to a smaller child at school, are you ready to take responsibility?

I didn't think so.

Don't be in a hurry. Smacking's a short cut to better behaviour in that moment. In the longer term, it teaches much more undesirable behaviour.

But what about when I really have to be in a hurry?

Yes, I've been there. I've had a child who refused to get out of his pyjamas when it was time for us to leave the house so I could get to work on time, as the sole breadwinner. I'm not particularly proud of how I handled it; I bundled him into the car in his PJs, threw his clothes at him and said "You can go to school in your pyjamas or you can get dressed before we get there."


If I had my time over again, I would cut out the part about throwing his clothes at him. That was me losing my temper. And I wouldn't suggest he get dressed while the car was moving. That was me, stressed beyond caring.

And I'd give the choices before I did the action. "Do you want to go to school in your PJs? Or do you want me to put you in the car in your PJs and take your clothes, so you can get dressed before you get out of the car?" And then follow through.

But five minutes earlier, I'd say "In five minutes we are getting in the car whether or not you are dressed. Do you want to dress yourself or do you need me to help you?"

See, there are lots of more respectful options. In an ideal world we'd remember them all when we needed them. I know we don't. I've been there.

Try to remember to give choices, but only realistic ones. Being late for work wasn't a choice for me. The choices I needed to present were 'get ready by yourself' or 'I will help you get ready'.

Sigh. Never mind. I don't think he was scarred for life by that one incident. Growing men and women is a long-term project. Don't beat yourself up too much if you screw up now and then!

Oh, and when you do screw up, be honest. Say sorry. Talk about what went wrong later, and how you can all work to make sure it doesn't happen any more. I don't think I did that, either. I wish I had.

I mean, you want to grow an adult who can say sorry, don't you? You want to grow an adult who can take responsibility when they make a mistake, when they lose control? Be that adult in front of them.

Lessons, homework and success

Here is the news: HOMEWORK IS A WASTE OF TIME in the vast majority of cases, and in all cases of children in early childhood. (Yep, there's research to back that up.)

Doing homework in preschool is not going to make your child smarter or give them an academic advantage. Watching 'Baby Einstein' or 'My Baby Can Read' is not going to help you grow a successful adult. You cannot 'make' a child gifted. Stencils and repetition and other gimmicks do not give your young child a head start- what they do in many cases is turn kids off learning before they even get to proper school.

This is the most important sort of homework for young children. Oh, and if all your photos of your children are in focus, you're doing it wrong. :D
In early childhood, probably the most important thing that children are learning is how to get on with other people; how to work in groups, what happens when they behave anti-socially in a group, what the rules of this society are. They do that by playing. Without that type of learning, they will be hamstrung as learners in school and as adults in everything they do.

That's why the Early Childhood curriculum is play-based; that's why we EC teachers fight tooth and nail against pushing down the maths and reading curriculum into preschool. We're trying to grow successful adults. Why won't people listen?!!

If you're spending every evening arguing with your young children about doing their homework, please save your breath for more productive matters! (Like, for example, going up to the school and asking the teacher what the hell he/she thinks they're doing. Or going to the park with them and running around for an hour.)

But what about older kids? Don't they need a nudge from us if they're going to be successful?

If you're spending every evening arguing with your adolescent children about doing their homework, please stop and let them learn by making mistakes! You can't live their life for them. They'll learn through consequences, not through you telling and yelling.

And here's another awful truth: a lot of the homework they're given is pointless, given only because parents and administrators expect it. (The parents and administrators need to do their own damn homework, because the research on this matter is clear.) Often the children themselves know what matters and what doesn't, but if they don't, they'll never learn that distinction if you keep shouting in their ear about it.

(Sure, if your child's genuinely behind with literacy, for example, you need to help them. But here's a hint:

You catch more flies with honey.

Read to them. Make it a game. Search for letters or special words in the text of books they enjoy. Put the frickin' flash cards AWAY unless you can make a game of it.)

To grow a fine young man or woman, you have to let them make their own mistakes and live their own life. It isn't your life; it isn't your choice. It's far, far more important to keep the lines of communication open with your child than it is to live in a state of constant warfare in the hope of making them 'successful'. That way, when they realise things have gone wrong, they have somewhere safe to fall. That is your job- to be their safe haven.

Not to turn them into Steve Jobs, or whatever your personal idea of 'successful' is. You don't have that power, and hurrying them along won't help. Let go.


So. Are we clear on this one?

Slow down. 

Give realistic choices.

Don't sweat the small stuff- and get your facts straight; know what's small stuff and what's big stuff. 

Try to be respectful, consistent, patient, truthful. 

You can't 'make' kids behave. You can't 'make' another human being do anything, unless you're prepared to use pain and fear. But you can set a good example- and you know what? It'll make you a better person, too.


  1. So true. Your blog is so useful and informative to us working within the early years and childcare field. Keep up the good work. Thank you. I have also liked you on my Facebook page at and intend to keep following. Thanks. I currently work within the childcare field as a childminder, my childminding website can be visited at and I am therefore inerested in anything childcare related. I am totally fascinated by how children learn.

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  3. Yes. Yes. And again, yes! As we sat w our brand new babies (6+12wks) my s-i-l commented on the politeness of my 3yo and asked when I started teaching her manners. Looking at our boys in arms I replied "Now." Never too soon and always modelled.

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  6. These are some really great child care tips. I agree, it's important to set boundaries for your kids. They need boundaries and they need to be taught how to behave. It's also important to let your kids make their own mistakes, since that seems to be one of the best way to learn.

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  9. Thanks for the information about child care. I didn't have a problem with my first child, but my second one has been tougher for me to discipline. I will have to try these tips and see if they work for her.

  10. There are a lot of parenting techniques out there. It is interesting because of the wide result that we can get even if similar styles are used. I guess that also tells us that it depends on the child and how they receive it. It is tricky to raise kids.

  11. I have twin boys, and they are so naughty. They seem to find trouble no matter where they go. When they are separate they do just fine, but the moment they get back together they are back to causing trouble. These are some great tips. I have found that when I get them outside, they seem to behave a little more, once they are worn out.

  12. I am doing this also to my kids.. even in a young age they should know some basic things to do at home or in any place.

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  13. I learned a lot from your blogs because of its helpful information.

  14. In the longer term, it teaches much more undesirable behaviour.

  15. This is an example of a Good parenting. Good job.

  16. Getting kids to behave has always been a challenge of child care, and I think it's really important to make sure that you're teaching them what is and isn't okay. That can play a huge part in getting them to learn. They need to know what is and isn't acceptable.

  17. this exactly what I'm looking for on how to make my kids behave

  18. It really takes a lot of effort and time just to make them behave that much.

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  38. I'm not sure I entirely agree on the part that says homework is a waste of time. I think forming good study habits is important so long as you live in the kind of society where you WILL get homework. I grew up with parents that never checked up on my homework so I had really bad study habits and went through most of my schooling without doing homework. I would kick myself every time the teacher came around to check homework and could not figure out why I forgot to do it, yet again. This problem continued into my tertiary studies and my uni life was a repetition of cramming before exams. It was not until my late 20's (when I did a 1 year post-grad course) that I finally got hold of my study habits but to this day (I am in my mid 30's now) I still have nightmares about having an exam the next day and not knowing anything. Brings back sour memories...

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