I have been wanting to review If I Have to Tell You One More Time for ages now because it is one of my favourite parenting books. It touches on some of the theories and techniques used by my favourite parenting gurus (Alfie Kohn, Jennifer Kolari, Adel Faber & Elaine Mazlich), and it breaks everything down into actual tools you can use, with concrete examples. This book is pretty information rich, and while I really wanted to keep with my “Reading so You Don’t Have To” theme, I can’t do that here. I’ll skip a lot of the theory, the whys and why nots, and the nitty gritty detail, and stick to the tips and tricks McCready suggests (minus the stuff on sibling rivalry and family meetings). Really and truly, you should read this book.
If I Have to Tell You is based on Alfred Adler’s principle that a child’s main goal is to achieve belonging (understand how he fits into your family unit, create emotional bonds, etc.), and significance (feel like a competent individual and contributing member of your family); children sometimes misbehave in an effort to gain a sense of belonging and significance if they don’t feel they have those things. With that in mind, here are the tools McCready offers:
Mind Body and Soul Time
Each parent should spend 2 10-minute play sessions with your child every day , when he has your complete and undivided attention (if you have more than 1 kid, they each have to have their own special time, independent of their siblings). You can spend more time than that, but 10 minutes is all that’s really necessary (in fact, it’s better to have several short sessions than one long session). Avoid “parenting” or correcting your child during this time, and just hang out with them, doing what they want to do. It’s important to label the time you spend together as special time. Make it part of your routine. This, McCready argues, is the best way to ward off misbehaviour because in carving out this quality time with your children, you are connecting with them and giving them that sense of belonging and significance they need.
You can also use Mind, Body and Soul Time for what McCready calls “Attention Overload”. Basically, if you need your kids to behave well at a specific time (for example, say you want them to be quiet while you visit with your friend), you spend some Mind, Body and Soul Time with your kids immediately before your friend comes over. In theory, your children won’t hound you for your attention if you’ve given them a lot of attention up front.
Don’t yell at your kids, and when they are misbehaving, do everything you can to stay neutral. Yelling just adds fuel to the fire. If you’re calm, your kids will be calmer; lead by example. Kids react to tone, rather than the words you’re saying, when they are super emotional, so yelling does nothing to make them “hear” better. When you are calm and acting like an adult, it empowers your children to do the same.
Encourage your child without praising them. Always focus on good behaviour/effort, and don’t label your child herself or stress how proud you are. Instead of saying “You’re so smart. I’m very proud of you”, for example, you could say “You worked really hard for that mark. You should be proud of yourself.”
In the same vein, avoid cricizing your child. Also, and I’m terrible for this, don’t do what McCready calls “piggybacking” – saying something nice, but immediately negating it with a comment to prove that you are right, or to suggest that your child should listen to you all the time. For example “You got ready all by yourself today! If only you would do that every day” is piggybacking. Just be straight-up encouraging without any snide remarks.
Take Time for Training
Don’t tell your kids what you DON’T want them to do because it leaves the solution open to interpretation. Focus instead on teaching them how you expect them to behave.
Rudolf Dreikurs says “never do for a child what he can do for himself.” Train kids on all age appropriate personal and household tasks, and avoid criticizing when you do so. If you’re not sure how to go about training without pointing out all of the mistakes, McCready says you can try phrases like “one thing that works for me…” or “you could try…”. Not only does this make kids feel competent and independent, it increases their sense of belonging and significance when they see how their contributions benefit your family as a whole.
Give kids as many choices as you can because it gives them a sense of power, fosters cooperation, and can ward off power struggles. Two small choices are usually good for younger kids (for example, “do you want to brush your teeth before you have a bath, or after”?). I especially like this tip because I feel it builds kids’ confidence and decision making skills.
Decide What You Will Do
You can’t control your kids, but you can control your reaction to their misbehaviour. For example, if your child is refusing to eat his dinner, you can decide ahead of time that you’re not going to yell and plead with him. Instead, you could decide that you’re going to calmly remove his plate from the table, not offer any other food options for the rest of the night, and enjoy your own dinner. Always try to make the situation work in your favour, no matter what your child does.
Control the Environment
Set your kids up for success by controlling your environment. For example, don’t put things they shouldn’t touch within their reach. If you’re always saying no to your child for taking the remote control (I use this example because Sprout is always taking off with ours and changing the channels all willy nilly), eliminate the power struggle at its source and put the remote somewhere they can’t reach it.
When Then Statements (for kids 2 and up only)
When Then Statements delay or deny a normally occuring privilege – “When you put your shoes on, then we can go play at the park.” They key is to make it a normally occurring privilege, not something that is seen as a treat, otherwise you’re basically just rewarding/punishing your child. “When you put your shoes on, Mommy will give you a candy” doesn’t cut it.
Always structure the sentence as “When (you do desired action), then (you can have a normally occurring privilege),” so your child comes to know you mean business.
Stay neutral and use a calm voice when you’re using When Then Statements. Don’t repeat yourself – give the direction clearly one time only, and have your child repeat it back to you. Don’t respond to back-talk or arguments. It’s best to deliver the message and walk away. If they don’t comply, you must follow through immediately on removing the privilege.
You can “Make When Then Routines the Boss” by employing When Then Statements as part of your normal schedule (for example: “when you brush your teeth, then we can read your bedtime story”).
Consequences (Natural and Logical)
“Consequences differ from punishment in that they don’t harm your child physically or emotionally, they focus on future behaviour rather than past behaviour, and they are revealed in advance so there will be no surprises”.
5 Rs of Consequences
Consequences must be
- Related to misbehaviour
- Reasonable in duration
- Revealed in advance
- Repeated to you by the child in advance (basically, you need to gain agreement in advance)
Natural consequences happen to your child organically, independent of your own involvement. For example, if he is climbing something he shouldn’t and he falls, the fall is the natural consequence.
You have to set your child up for success, here. Warn them of the natural consequences of their action “you could fall and hurt yourself,” and don’t remind them again. Then let nature take its course. Avoid saying “I told you so” after the fact, even though it would feel AMAZING to say it.
(Please note: I don’t advocate letting your kids fall and seriously hurt themselves, it was just the easiest example I could think of.)
A logical consequence happens when you deny or delay a privilege, or make your child make amends for their behaviour (for example, if your child spills something on the floor, a logical consequence would be to make her clean it up).
Either Or Statements (only to be used when other tools don’t work)
Either Or Statements lay out logical consequences – “Either you stop fighting over that toy, or I will take it away.” They are a lot like When Then Statements, but When Then is reserved for when you want your child to do something, and Either Or is for when you want them to stop doing something.
It’s important to lay out the Either Or clearly, get your child to repeat what will happen if he doesn’t follow through to make sure he understands, and then calmly implement the consequence if you need to. There is no need for further discussion – just take action and walk away.
Ignore Undue Attention Requests
Here are the steps to take if you want to ignore undue attention (whining, interrupting, pretending they can’t do something for themselves, etc.):
- Reveal to your child in advance what you plan to do
- Train child in appropriate behaviour
- Follow through
For example, you could say “If you use your whiney voice (demonstrate what she sounds like when she is whining), I am going to ignore what you say until you use your big girl voice (demonstrate what a polite request sounds like).” Have them repeat the rules back to you, and then follow through if you need to.
Mind, Body and Soul Time, Encouragement, and Attention Overload are tools you can use to nip undue attention requests in the bud.
Rather than telling your child what to do, invite cooperation. McCready suggests you pretend you’re speaking to a co-worker rather than your child. For example, instead of telling your child to move his toys to his bedroom, you could say “Anything you can do to help tidy up the living room would be appreciated.”
Withdraw from Conflict
Reveal to your children in advance that you won’t be fighting or engaging in power struggles with them anymore. Tell them how you expect to be spoken to, and how you expect them to respond. After that, just refuse to fight with them. If your child tries to draw you into a conflict, walk away. Literally hide in the bathroom if you have to.
Use “I Feel” Statements
I think most people are familiar with “I Feel” Statements, but just in case, you set them up like this: “I feel… when you… I wish…”
For example, “I feel angry when you interrupt me while I am talking on the phone. I wish you would wait until I am done speaking with my friend to get my attention.”
Using that format (rather than statements like “You always interrupt me” or “You never let me talk on the phone”) focuses your attention on the behaviour, not the child, as well as the solution.
If I Have to Tell Y ou One More Time has so much more information than the high level stuff I outlined above (the difference between punishment and discipline, why authoritative parenting doesn’t work in today’s society, why rewards don’t work, ego states, how to deal with sibling rivalry, tips for different parenting styles… I could go on). I’m not going to say this style of parenting is right for you or your children, or that it’s a magical cure-all or anything, but it is absolutely worth the read.