We recently moved into a new home, and soon after the move, heard some squeaking sounds that we were unhappy to discover were mice. We quickly put out traps and poison, and waited for the end of our mouse visitors. No luck. We got more traps, including some from a professional exterminator that can’t be purchased in a regular hardware store that catch everything, supposedly. Still no luck. A friend told us about a major mouse infestation they had in the old home they purchased, and their unsuccessful attempts (similar to ours) to take care of the problem. What finally worked, she said, was getting a cat. I was reluctant to try this, since we have family members with allergies, but after seeing that it was either get a cat or live with mice, I borrowed a cat from a friend.
This cat was an outdoor pet, and in any case, different homes have different rules. I didn’t want her jumping on my furniture, or going up to the floor where the bedrooms were located, but she needed to be taught what our rules are. Since my kids were trying to be helpful with the training, I explained them what to do – not to move her before she did anything wrong, but to catch her starting to do it, and right away firmly move her; to speak to her firmly but not meanly when correcting her. I stressed that she couldn’t be allowed even once to stay on the furniture or visit the upstairs rooms. Every time she started to jump up or go up the stairs, I immediately moved her off and told her, “No”.
After one day of this, the cat no longer needed to be told – she just avoided the areas that we had taught her to stay out of. As I explained to my kids my approach and why, I realized that I had unconsciously been using the same approach I use when disciplining my children. And it works just as well for kids as for cats!
We can’t assume that our kids know how what our expectations are unless we take the time to teach them. They shouldn’t be held responsible for being unable to read your mind. It’s our job to help them learn what the guidelines in our homes are. But it’s not enough to tell children what the rules are. It’s crucial that you follow up and show that you mean what you say. Children need to see an immediate and consistent response from their parents, not long after they have done something wrong, but as soon as you see them starting to break whatever rule is involved.
An example of this would be, your child begins to throw something down – you immediately catch his hand, ideally before he has time to finish throwing it, and take whatever it is away, telling him firmly, “No throwing”. A child who starts to speak disrespectfully is immediately corrected, not after he finishes talking, but at the first hint of an improper tone. By dealing with issues as soon as they arise, you give your children a clear message. You are able to discipline without the anger that comes from waiting until it’s really too late and then feeling frustrated and resentful.
This seems like very simple advice, and it is – but very few parents do this. The younger you begin this process, the easier it will be for you. It is much harder to start teaching a twelve year old to respect what you say and show that you mean it, than it is an eighteen month old. There is no harshness or anger involved – just the commitment to following through on what you have said, every single time. This idea may seem very intimidating – I know it was to me. Establishing limits in your home will take time, but once your kids see you mean what you say, they won’t keep testing you. Your need to discipline will drastically drop, and result will be time you previously spent in some kind of conflict will now be time you can spend together doing much more enjoyable things.