Parents: Say No and Mean It

If you feel that you're a pushover when it comes to disciplining your kids, a new survey shows that you're not alone.

The survey featured in Parents magazine reveals that 88 percent of moms feel that parents today let their kids get away with too much.

Diane Debrovner, the magazine's senior editor, visits The Early Show to offer tips on how to better enforce the rules.

Many parents today feel that discipline is harder to achieve than in previous generations for several reasons, including the increase in working mothers and blended families and the way kids know what they want at a younger age, Debrovner finds.

She says it is also harder because much of the current parenting advice encourages parents to be "friends" with their children.

"Part of being a parent is being unpopular some of the time," says Debrovner. That is not always easy for a parent, especially those who are working and feel they are not home enough and they don't want to spend their limited time with their children as "rule enforcers." So guilt also plays a big role.

There has also been a lot more emphasis in recent years on a child's emotional well-being. This is a good thing, but it makes parents more likely to empathize with their child and think about why he or she may be misbehaving, or to worry that saying "no" too often might be traumatic for a child. Since we now encourage children to express their feelings and opinions, kids learn at a young age to negotiate for what they want and try to bend the rules.

What hasn't worked: Some discipline strategies that have become popular - elaborate warning systems that give kids multiple chances, prolonged discussions about the feelings behind bad behavior, and negotiations about consequences - are often ineffective.

When parents start being stricter, they find that it quickly becomes easier rather than harder to get their kids to behave. Many studies have shown that kids who have limits feel more secure, do better academically and socially, and have better self-esteem. Without rules, kids are more likely to become self-absorbed, defiant and unhappy.

Debrovner reminds parents that discipline is not about punishment. Spanking or yelling may work for the short-term, but in the long term you may be teaching your child bad ways to cope with a frustrating situation.

So here are tips on what to do:

  1. Get comfortable saying NO: Once you've said "no," stick to it. This, according to the survey, is where parents failed. The lack of follow-up makes it easier for your child to do as he/she pleases. So offer a brief explanation, but then no negotiating.

    You're the parent, you're in charge, and your word is final. If your child puts up enough of a fight and you eventually give in, he'll learn that's what it takes to get his way. But if you hold firm, he'll realize that he might as well comply because you're not giving in. This, according to Debrovner, is another place where parents are pushovers. The survey shows that part of the problem is that discipline with many parents is haphazard. They don't make a plan to deal with things. There is no consistent set of rules. So if you change your response each time, your child will know that you don't have a hard line.

  2. Establish specific rules, based on your children's most troublesome behaviors:

    This way, kids know what the deal is. With toddlers and preschoolers, you'll have to keep reminding them: pet the cat gently, and don't grab others' toys. You might have to repeat a rule 80 times before it sinks in. With kids 4 and older, you can also establish up front what the consequences are for breaking certain rules, such as a short-term loss of privileges your child enjoys most (TV, playing outside with friends). Don't give a warning or second chance, enforce consequences immediately.

  3. Pick your battles:
    Be firm, but also fair and reasonable. Keep in mind what is developmentally appropriate behavior for your child's age. If your toddler demands to have juice in the red cup and milk in the green one, she isn't being naughty; that rigidity is part of her development and will pass.
  4. Don't go overboard:
    Firm discipline doesn't mean being harsh or abusive. When you yell, your child will be more likely to be defiant and you'll also make your child more likely to yell when he's frustrated or mad. Issue rules and requests in a calm, unemotional way.
Here is how you can revamp your entire parenting strategy:

Start small. Take one behavior your child does that you want to correct and focus on that one behavior.

For example, if your child whines a lot, tell her "If you use that voice, I will not listen to you." Debrovner reminds parents that it takes 30 days to change a behavior, so it will take you some time to learn to be a better enforcer and for your child to understand the new set of rules.

Talk to your spouse or partner and have a joint plan because, often times, parents don't see eye-to-eye and children are good at playing one parent against another. It not only causes problems for you regarding parenting, but it can be a problem between you and your spouse.

Debrovner notes that she finds withholding privileges works best.

She says the reason time-out doesn't work as well is:

  • Many parents send the child to his room, which is filled with toys and television so it's not really seen as a punishment;
  • If you force your child to do time-out in the kitchen, the child may walk away a few times, and you'll have to really enforce the time out. Most parents get tired and just give up.