Do you feel like you’re squashing the fun for being strict and holding your ground? It’s okay to be the “bad guy” and still parent effectively. Here’s how.
Do your days feel like you’re squashing out the fun for being strict and holding your ground? You’re trying to have a fun, positive moment with your kids, but you can’t seem to go a minute before disciplining them yet again.
And no matter how hard we try not to be the “bad guy,” we still feel crummy in the end.
Sure, there are days when the kids comply, or we’re parenting effectively and we feel like good moms.
But it’s taken a lot of energy to maintain this composure and keep our tempers in line.
How to parent effectively
Thankfully, it’s okay to be the “bad guy” and still parent effectively. We just need to redefine what it means to be the “bad guy”:
Assess your intentions.
Before you discipline your kids, ask, “Why am I doing this?”
We sometimes let anger get in the way of positive parenting. When our kids misbehave (or when we have a bad day), we snap and dole out discipline based on anger, stress or impatience.
We might be in the kitchen frantically cooking dinner when our kids demand our attention. Short on time and patience, we belt out another consequence without truly assessing the situation. Or even make things worse when the situation could have been better averted with a gentle and firm tone.
So if you ask yourself what your true intentions are and they have more to do with your own needs than your kids’, stop and take a breath. Disciplining kids should be for their benefit.
Be on the same page as your partner.
Discipline is one of the areas of parenting where both parents should agree on and enforce the rules equally.
This gets especially tricky when one parent is more lenient while the other tends to be strict. You have now divided authority into the good guy/bad guy roles that is pleasant for neither parent (or kids).
The lenient parent, while seeming more fun and permissive, will have zero authority when the moment calls for it. The strict parent will have too much authority and its ensuing stress, lack of joy and frustrations.
Erase any divide in authority by equally parenting with your partner. Disagreeing with one another in front of your kids show them how quickly one can waver, or even highlight the weakness in your discipline.
Don’t leave disciplining duties to one parent, either (“Just wait until your dad comes home”). Doing so undermines your own authority and paints the other parent as the bad guy to be feared.
And establish your rules (preferably in private) with one another so that, when the moment to discipline arises, you have little question on what the protocol would be, regardless of which parent happens to be there.
Discipline the behavior, not the child.
Kids feel attacked by the “bad guy” parent because we don’t distinguish between the behavior and the child performing it.
You know that your kids can throw the biggest outburst and you would still love them. They need to know that. They need to feel assured that your discipline is aimed to correct their behavior, not themselves.
I’ve blatantly told my son, “I love you no matter what. Even if you’re throwing a tantrum or not listening, I still love you. Even if you’re sleeping, I love you. No matter what.”
This is where we need to remove words like, “Bad boy!” (or even “Good boy!” for that matter). Or “You’re so frustrating.” Or “You’re always misbehaving.” (They’re not always misbehaving, right?).
Instead, correct the misbehavior, and even empathize and label the emotion: “It looks like you’re feeling tired and sad. But I can’t let you pull on the curtains because they could break. Let’s look for something else to pull.”
Apply matter-of-fact consequences.
Just as you have distanced your kids from the misbehavior, so too should your consequences be removed from you.
Parents can seem like the “bad guy” because the consequences feel like they’re derived from a personal vendetta. You’re upset, you enforce a consequence that has nothing to do with the misbehavior, and you probably did so angrily.
Instead, detach yourself from the consequence. First, enforce natural consequences as much as possible. For instance, if your daughter is drawing markers on herself, take away the markers. Or if your son refuses to put away his toys, cut back on his park outing because he took too long with clean up time. Avoid threatening your kids with, “If you don’t stop drawing markers all over yourself, I’m going to take away your special bear.”
Second, speak calmly and firmly. Remove your emotions from your disciplining (it’s hard, I know). Taking away her markers is something that had to happen not because of your temper, but because your daughter wouldn’t listen.
Kids need to learn that their actions caused the consequences, not you being mean or the “bad guy.”
Don’t hold grudges.
Some of our kids’ outbursts are so… grand that they imprint into our memories for hours or even days afterwards. However stressful your child’s antics just put you through, remember you’re the bigger person. You need to decide to forgive, to understand their development, and eventually return to your loving ways.
You don’t have to be super chipper a second after your son just threw an hour-long tantrum, but withholding your love or attention as a form of punishment doesn’t build a strong relationship between the two of you. Explain that you feel tired, and if your child is trying to “break the ice” and make amends, don’t hold back.
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Have a good reason to discipline.
And not “because I said so.” (Don’t worry, I’ve said these words a few times, even if I swore I wouldn’t.)
I noticed my son is much more obliging when I explain why I’m telling him to do or not do something. “Can you keep your voice down? Your brothers are sleeping.” or “Let’s start putting your toys away. (‘Why?’) So that we can find them tomorrow and play with them.”
Just as we want to detach ourselves from the rules, we also want to apply the same matter-of-fact reasoning behind them. Rules don’t exist to make life less enjoyable for kids. They have a reason, and one that would likely benefit our kids (such as finding our toys the next day).
Explaining why also makes our kids complicit in the tasks. Now it’s not mom versus child. It’s really mom and child on the same side and having the same goals.
Discipline with respect.
I don’t have a perfect track record, but I do my best to above all else, respect my kids, especially when I discipline.
We can be strict, firm and unyielding, but we should strive to show respect throughout.
Understand their developmental milestones and what they can and can’t do yet. It means not belittling them for being kids or for not being able to communicate as aptly as we can. Nor does it mean abusing our authority and bullying them into coercion because we’re bigger.
It means honoring their temperament, however challenging it may be. It means putting their best interests in front of ours. And it means that we can show love not just in our kisses and smiles but in the way we discipline as the “bad guy.”
Read more posts about behavior and discipline:
- How to Stop Your Child from Whining and Speak Politely Instead
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
- The Surprisingly Simple Question You Should Always Ask Yourself before Disciplining Your Child
- How to Respond to Your Child’s Hurtful Words
- What to Do When Your Child Says No to Everything