“Act like a cop? What?!” I can see your confusion now. Does that mean I’m supposed to be tough on my kids? Should I be watching them carefully? Treating them like a criminal? Don’t worry – I’m not talking about any of these things.
When I tell you to act like a cop, I’m talking about how you discipline your child. This suggestion is applicable no matter what your child’s age is.
Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? Think about what that experience was like for a minute. First of all, you most likely know what the traffic laws are and what you need to do to follow them. As soon as those red and blue lights start flashing behind you, you know you’ve done something wrong, and you probably have an idea what it is.
The police officer then comes up to your car. He or she calmly states what law you violated, and after a few minutes, the officer hands you a ticket with the pre-determined consequence written on it. That’s it. Their actions are completely separate from their emotions. They might tell you to have a nice day, and then you can drive off.
Now I’m going to ask you to think about a more unrealistic version of this scenario. Think about what it would be like if you didn’t know what the traffic laws were. They may change from day to day, or they may be implied but not written down anywhere. How would this make you feel? You might be fairly confused and anxious while driving, or you might simply give up and just drive however you feel like since you never know when you’re violating a traffic law. In that world, imagine that you get pulled over for breaking one of those unclear laws. The police officer cries, yells at you, lectures you for an hour, and tells you how horrible of a person you are. Then you have to argue and negotiate the consequences of your ticket with the officer, who can decide on a whim what those consequences will be based on his mood, your attitude, the weather..anything.
See the difference between those two scenarios? How would you feel in the first situation versus the second? In which one would you have more trust in the police officer? Which one would be easier for you to act rationally and reasonably when you get pulled over?
Now think about how you are as a parent. Is your child’s world more like the first or the second scenario? Are the laws clear and consistent? Or constantly changing and chaotic? Do you think you act more like the first police officer or more like the second? Do you calmly, and with respect for your child, enforce rules? Or do you yell and scream?
If you can act like the police officer in the first scenario when you discipline your child, it will have many benefits. By acting like a cop, you will provide consistency and safety for your child. Your child will trust and respect you more if you are able to stay calm and rational, even when they are in trouble. You’ll cut down on a lot of arguing and heated discussions by remaining composed and steady when your child does something wrong. By clearly understanding the rules, your child will never have to guess what’s going to get them in trouble. If you are consistent about following through with the consequences, your child won’t try to argue with you or change your mind, because they will know it won’t change the outcome.
So I have a challenge for you. Act like a cop when you discipline your child. Be fair and respectful. Have clear, consistent rules and consequences. When you child breaks a rule, calmly let them know and enforce the consequence. (No need to lecture extensively.) Stay as calm and rational as possible, no matter how upset your child gets, and keep your emotions out of it. It won’t be easy at first, but it’s worth it.