I have 3 kids who have no problem telling me where to stick it. Time-outs were my go-to for a long time, but I’ve recently transitioned to a far more powerful defense.
Don’t get me wrong, time-outs are huge if you want to survive as a parent of strong willed children. If nothing else, they’re a great way to get a nasty attitude out of play so you can rest your brain and rekindle a general sense of hope. But time-outs for my kids are only temporary, short-run solutions. They’ve never effected any real change.
Up to this point I’d always hated lecturing kids, it seemed so pointless, so torturous. My wife lectures our kids all the time and it drives me crazy. They stand there like statues while she talks – forever. I always feel like I need to rescue them.
But our kids are much more behaved for my wife than they are for me, so I recently decided to give lecturing a try.
I was wrong. It works. Here are three reasons why.
1. Lecturing Forces Kids to Face their Mess
Lectures give our kids some time to stew in their transgression and consider it from someone else’s perspective. Time-outs remove them from everything; they can think about whatever they want. We control the engagement in a lecture and make it oh so difficult for them to distance themselves from whatever it is they need to face.
2. It Feels Good
Let’s be honest, when our kids screw up, when they’ve trodden upon some coveted value of ours, or destroyed our property (again), it’s easy to believe they did it on purpose, like they’re out to get us, or deliberately trying to get under our skin. Sometimes they are. Either way, just being honest, it feels good to retaliate.
Lecturing is the best way to suckle the sweet fruits of retaliation and help your kids get their shit together.
I don’t have to hit, scream, shame, threaten, etc. All I have to do is slow down, gather myself, and let fly with the most boring, repetitive speech about family rules that you can possibly imagine. They can’t stand it and I can’t tell you how good that feels when they’ve triggered one of my emotional landmines.
Best of all, it’s culturally acceptable, and it’s legal. You can do it in public, at the doctor’s office, at church, in front of the grandparents. Anytime. Anywhere.
3. The Breaking Point
My kids don’t hate the talking, or the repetition, they hate thinking about what they did wrong. We all do. That’s why they squirm and try to run away when we confront them.
A good lecture helps kids understand the impact of what they’ve done – not only that it’s wrong, or that parents are disappointed, but that others were affected. Kids don’t change their behavior unless they feel true remorse. That’s why intimidation, threats, shaming, time-outs, etc. are so marginally effective; they don’t go far enough.
The most powerful thing about a lecture is that mom and/or dad are right there in the middle of it. There is no human presence more powerful to a kid than her parents, regardless of how their attitude might suggest otherwise. Lecturing doesn’t just put the infraction in their face, it puts us in their face, and gives a ton more weight to the issue we’re trying to address.
Four Tips for a Good Lecture
1. Squirmy Kids
If my kids are fidgety, giggly, or are flat-out blowing me off, I make them sit on the ground till they’re ready to talk. This breaks them down a bit and prepares them for what’s coming. My tagline is “You let me know when you’re ready to talk, I’ve got all day.” Works like a charm.
2. Don’t be abusive
Shame, screaming, intimidation, fear, and distance all feel great, but ultimately won’t bring anything good to your kids. It teaches them that they’re worth the abuse, that there must be something wrong with them. If you prefer to have kids who are constantly struggling to control themselves, make them feel like a piece of crap, that’s the ultimate fruit of abuse.
I know we lose our tempers from time to time and we should apologize and make amends when that happens, but, as much as you can, get the abusive stuff off the discipline table.
Focus on their behavior, it’s impact on others, and keep it at that.
3. Make it a long one.
You might be thinking that you don’t have enough material to draw a lecture out long enough to make them really think. Not a problem. If you run out of words, ask questions. “You know our family rule is no punching in the face. If you know that’s our rule, why did you punch your sister in the face?” Silence is OK if they don’t want to answer, it gives you time to come up with more material.
Your speech doesn’t have to be ground-breaking, it only has to be relevant to whatever it is they did wrong. And don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, they really hate that.
It’s also a good idea to get some time alone to think about the things your kid does over and over again, the areas where they’re habitually disobedient. Craft some good material outside of the arena so you’re not always trying to come up with stuff on the fly. They’ll think you did make it up on the fly, which will make you seem even more impenetrable.
4. Be firmly on their side
Kids are more likely to listen/change if they know we’re pulling for them. At some point in my lectures, usually in the beginning, I’ll let them know I understand why they’ve misbehaved.
“You must have been really mad at your sister to punch her in the face.”
“I probably would have wanted to punch her in the face too you know.”
All misbehavior has something good at it’s core. An angry outburst can be the result of some perceived injustice. If they lie, it’s because they’re scared. If they steal, it’s because they really wanted something. We can all empathize with those emotions. The root of all sin is desire, not stupidity or selfishness – the behavior might be bad, but the desires aren’t. While we should always condemn the bad responses, we can connect with them by validating their desires and let them know that they’re just as human as we are.
Give it a Whirl
I don’t lecture every time one of my kids screw up – that would be impossible. Sometimes I’m too tired, or too busy. Sometimes I don’t have the emotional energy. There are times when I lose my temper, or do a “drive by” sort of consequence threat. But once I started lecturing, my kids’ level of respect for dad seemed to change, dramatically so. And I’ve gotten way better at getting them to the “breaking point.”
My kids aren’t perfect, but they know that whatever it is we’re discussing is so important that everything needs to stop, and that they’re worth stopping for. I can’t tell you how much change that’s brought to our family.