Do you feel like you’re squashing the fun for being strict and holding your ground? Learn how to stop being the bad guy with your kids.
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.
You want them to ride their scooters in the yard, but have to stop them from crashing into the flower bed. They’re having a blast playing chase, but you have to step in when they hurt one another. And you can’t seem to let it go when they don’t listen to instructions.
No matter how hard you try not to be the “bad guy,” you still feel crummy in the end.
Sure, there are days when you don’t have to referee their every move and you feel like a good mom. But takes a lot of energy to maintain this composure and keep your temper in line.
How to stop being the bad guy in parenting
No one wants to be the “bad guy” with their kids, especially when they see other adults as fun and carefree. It drives you nuts that you’re the only one who seems to be disciplining, or when you’re constantly on the lookout for their behavior.
Here’s the thing: It’s okay to be firm and set boundaries while still being loving and kind. You can keep them safe and stay consistent with the rules while enjoying yourself too.
Take a look at how to discipline your kids without being the bad guy in their eyes:
1. Apply matter-of-fact consequences
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 situation and 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.”
Then, 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 you, but because she wouldn’t listen.
Kids need to learn that their actions caused the consequences, not you being mean or the “bad guy.”
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2. 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 assessing the situation. We make things worse when the situation could have been better averted with a gentle and firm tone.
So, ask yourself what your true intentions are. If they have more to do with your own needs than your kids’, stop and take a breath. Disciplining should be for their benefit.
3. 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’ve divided authority into the good guy/bad guy roles that isn’t pleasant for either parent (or your kids).
The lenient parent, while seemingly more fun and permissive, will have zero authority when the moment calls for it. Meanwhile, the strict parent will have too much authority and its ensuing stress, lack of joy, and frustrations.
Erase the divide in authority by equally parenting with your partner. Disagreeing with one another in front of your kids shows 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 one parent’s authority and paints the other as the bad guy to be feared.
And finally, establish your rules (preferably in private) with one another. When the moment to discipline arises, each parent knows how to respond, regardless of which one of you happens to be there.
4. Discipline the behavior, not the child
Your kids might feel attacked by the “bad guy” parent because you don’t distinguish between the behavior and the child performing it. They might feel like you’re attacking who they are, versus correcting the actions they made.
They need to feel assured that your discipline is aimed to correct their behavior, not who they are within. Tell them, “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 also where we need to remove words like, “Bad boy!” (or even “Good boy!” for that matter). Don’t say “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.”
5. 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 his development, and eventually return to your loving ways.
You don’t have to be chipper after he threw a tantrum, but withholding your love as punishment doesn’t build a strong relationship. If he wants to play and you’re not in the mood, explain that you feel tired. And if he’s trying to “break the ice” and make amends, don’t hold back.
6. Give a reason
And not “because I said so.” (Don’t worry, I’ve said these words a few times, even if I swore I wouldn’t.)
Kids are more obliging when we explain why we’re telling them to do or not do something. “Can you keep your voice down? Your brothers are sleeping.” or “Let’s start putting your toys away so we can find them tomorrow.”
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 (like being able to find their toys the next day).
Explaining the reason also makes them complicit in the tasks. It’s not mom versus child—it’s really mom and child on the same side with the same goals.
7. Discipline with respect
You can be strict, firm, and unyielding, but you should also show respect even as you discipline.
Don’t belittle him for being a child, or for not being able to communicate as well as you can. Avoid abusing your authority and coercing him to do what you want just because you’re the adult.
Instead, work with his temperament, however challenging it may be. Put his best interests in front of yours. Understand his developmental milestones and what he can and can’t do yet. And speak to him with the same compassion and respect as you would anyone else.
8. Redefine “discipline”
What comes to mind when you hear the word “discipline”? Maybe you thought “punishment” or “consequences,” about what we do when our kids misbehave, or different parenting styles.
But discipline is more than that—it’s teaching. When we discipline, we teach our kids how to behave, regulate their emotions, calm themselves down, and think of other people’s feelings. These are the skills we want them to have when they grow up.
Forget power struggles or parent-child battles. Instead, think of yourselves as being on the same side—you’re teaching him how to behave and giving him the skills he needs to learn.
Feeling like the “bad guy” with your kids isn’t fun for anyone involved, but now you can take steps to turn things around.
Apply “matter of fact” consequences that tie into your child’s behavior. Ask yourself why you’re disciplining so that you don’t do so out of anger. Be on the same page as your partner so that you’re both abiding by similar rules and enforcing them equally.
Then, address your child’s behavior, not who he is as a person. Avoid holding grudges after he throws a tantrum or doesn’t listen unless you yell. Give a reason for your instructions so he understands why he has to do them. Discipline with respect and compassion.
And finally, remember that discipline is less about punishment as it is about teaching him how to behave and cope with his emotions.
You truly can enjoy being with your kids without feeling like the “bad guy”—even if they nearly ride their scooters into the flower bed.
Get more tips:
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Doesn’t Listen
- The Surprisingly Simple Question You Should Always Ask Yourself before Disciplining Your Child
- How to Respond When Your Child Says Hurtful Things to You
- What to Do When Your Child Says No to Everything
- The One Mistake You’re Probably Making when Your Child Misbehaves in Front of Others
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