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When Children Misbehave While On Family Vacation

Hello Mark,

I trust you had a nice Christmas and New Year and hope all is well with you and your family.

I don't know whether you've taken time off work so don't feel obliged to respond to this email if you are still on holidays....!

I've run into a spot of bother with A___ (and M___) and am unsure of what to do now. We have just had a 10-day (interstate) holiday at the beach and it was the worst holiday I've ever spent with this child. Her behaviour became appalling and consisted of alternating between constant whining and whining, ignorance of any request, arguing nonstop, fighting with other children and verbal abuse. I would remind her (when I had the energy) that the way she was speaking to me was unacceptable but Martin tried to just ignore her because he thought if I reprimanded her, she was getting a reaction and that's what she wanted. I'd have a lot of trouble letting ANYbody speak to me the way she was and so then we started to constantly disagree (with your words "ignoring behaviour is an overrated parenting technique" echoing in my head..!)

I am now in a really bad headspace, my eyesight is deteriorating again due to MS or stress or whatever, and now that we are home I feel like we are back where we started with you 4 or 5 months ago. My question to you is, how do we keep things going when the circumstances change? She had no money on the holiday because she hadn't done enough work prior to our leaving but when we went out to eat (which we had to do a lot) it's hard to deny her and ice cream for example when the other kids are having one. My mother only sees her once or twice a year and so gave her a few things when she visited (although mum did say she was now very worried about her with a view to what the future would hold for this willful and defiant child) and my mother doesn't voice an unrequested opinion lightly....

The topic of sending her away to school was raised as well but we would have to find a school strict enough to settle her down and it's all too hard.

It's her 9th birthday on Jan 28th and I've said there will be no party (I've given her a little one every 2nd year till now and she is due this year) because she was so difficult whilst we were away. Perhaps we will just have to forgo a holiday in the future, I don't know.

Appreciate your time and thoughts when you can Mark,

L.

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Re: My question to you is, how do we keep things going when the circumstances change?

To all parents whose children misbehave while on vacation:

Your kid has misbehaved horribly! I can picture you now, thumbing frantically through the ebook, looking for the list of ways to choose a consequence. No, no, no. That won't do! I'm breaking it down into steps so you can think about it. This is not paint-by-numbers parenting!

Points to consider:

· Can you support the consequence with your actions? Does it make sense in terms of your family's values? Say you value time spent together. If the TV is located in a central location, and the consequence is that the child is not allowed to watch TV (and therefore is banned from the living room while the TV is on), then don't sit and watch TV all evening. If you do, you're applying more than the stated consequence of separating the child from the television—you're separating the child from you.

· Check it against the requirements—is it based in nature, is it based in logic? Does it fulfill the 4-Rs (related, respectful, reasonable, rewarding)? Will your child learn from it?

· Consider what you want the consequence to achieve. The point of all discipline is to teach your child internal control over her behavior. You're training her conscience, and her ethics. You're teaching her how the world works. Long after you're dead and buried, this conscience, ethical sense and knowledge of the world should still be instructing her on how to behave.

· Consider whether you'll be able to follow through on the consequence. Saying, “That's it, we're not going on vacation!” is not only unreasonable, it's unrealistic. Yes, you are going on vacation. You need it, the tickets have been purchased, the hotel reserved.

· Whenever you're applying consequences, take as much time as you need, remember to keep consequences close to the action, do your best, and forgive yourself for making mistakes.

Defining Consequences Ahead of Time (a good thing to do before going on a vacation) —

Whenever possible, it's best to define consequences ahead of time. It takes a little time, but the advantages are enormous:
  • This forces you to think about it, right?
  • It will get you away from that “I'll show you,” punitive frame of mind, and back into the “Zen of inevitability.” You'll be calm, cool, and collected.
  • You won't have to think through a veil of red anger, or stall until you've talked with your parenting partner. Consequences work best when they are immediate.

Predefined consequences are the other half of family rules and personal limits. An easy way to predefine consequences is to sit down with any lists you've already made of family rules and your child's limits. Take each rule and limit and rewrite it in the following form:

· Rule or limit. If rule or limit is broken, then consequence.

Here are two examples:

· We do not eat at the computer. If anybody eats at the computer, the consequence will be:

· Robert's bedtime is 8:30 on school nights. If Robert doesn't go to bed, the consequence will be:

Setting up the consequences ahead of time doesn't always work, nor is it always appropriate. Here are two disadvantages of predefining consequences:

· It puts you into a negative frame of mind while you're making your list—everything is looked at in terms of what can go wrong, instead of expecting, assuming, and supporting that everything will go right.

· It doesn't figure in the flexibility required. There may be extenuating circumstances, or the consequences defined may not actually fit when the moment comes.

When you're called upon to think up consequences immediately and on the spot use this short, succinct, and highly effective technique called STAR. It was developed by communication expert William Sonnenschein.

STAR stands for Stop, Think, Ask, Respond:
  • Stop: Breathe, calm yourself, take 10.
  • Think: Think about what is really going on, about what your child needs, and about her positive intent.
  • Ask: Here's where you can use active and proactive listening, to get your child's perspective (yes, this step is necessary!).
  • Respond: Apply a consequence that satisfies the 4-Rs.

Letting the Child Decide—

Older kids who are experienced in making fun choices (ice cream or cake? Swimming or ice skating?) can start working with you to determine appropriate consequences. Before you start asking your kids to help you determine their own consequences, make sure they've had positive experiences with choice making, and are old enough to understand how consequences work (logical, natural, the 4-Rs, and so on).

Avoiding Inappropriate Consequences—

There are so many varieties and examples of illogical and inappropriate consequences that I'm a little leery about bringing them up at all. If a consequence isn't natural or logical, if it doesn't fit the 4-Rs and it doesn't teach anything, then it's inappropriate. There's another kind of inappropriate consequence to watch for: the double-dip.

Words to Parent By—

A double-dip consequence is a consequence one step removed—a consequence applied because the parent is upset that a child has done something away from home that required somebody else to apply discipline. Double-dip consequences are very common, but highly inappropriate. An extreme example: A child is spanked for “earning” (and getting) a spanking from somebody else: unjust, unfair, and punitive.

Here are some examples of double-dip consequences:

· Disciplining your child because he was disciplined at school. You can and should talk about what happened, chat about the child's feelings (and your own), and brainstorm ways of avoiding similar situations in the future.

· Natural consequences often lend themselves to double-dipping. Be wary! People have a tendency to scold or discipline a child for letting a natural consequence occur. If Maurice's favorite toy breaks because he threw it against the wall, it's double-dipping (and inappropriate) for you to scold and berate him for breaking it. He will learn more from the natural consequence if you simply talk with him in a kind, firm way about what happened, how he (and you) feels, and how to avoid the situation in the future.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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