Forget all that psychobabble about talking rationally to children. And don’t bother with those useless “time outs.” You can’t reason with a child; they’re smarter than we are. They know how to work us, how to manipulate, bargain and charm us into doing anything they want.
Want to know the secret to a well-disciplined child? It’s the fear factor. If you can instill the fear factor at an early age, you’ll have it made. How early? As soon as they stop being cute, around ten months, or around the time they start pulling themselves up on the furniture and tossing your precious knickknacks off the shelves – whichever comes first.
My mother knew how to work the fear factor. She didn’t argue, or raise her voice at us kids, she simply said: “Wait until your father comes home and hears what you did!” Those words were enough to make me stop in my tracks and start begging for forgiveness, even if I didn’t know what I had done.
When that strategy failed, she grabbed the wooden spoon, the heavy-duty one that she stirred the macaroni with. It was a sturdy swatter, enabling her to extend her reach at least a foot beyond her own arm’s length. I used that method on my own children.
I only had to say, “I’m getting the wooden spoon!” and they stopped misbehaving immediately. Sometimes, all I had to do was rattle the spoons around in their holder or smack the counter top a few times so they could hear me from the other room. It was relatively effortless, on my part, but very effective.
As the boys got older the wooden spoon became a joke, so my husband took on a more mature method of discipline, which involved no punishment at all. Instead, he would take them into a room, close the door and give them, what became known as “the talk.”
The first time he did this, I didn’t know what he was going to do. I waited anxiously, with my hand on the doorknob, ready to run in at the first sounds of spanking or crying. But, even with my ear pressed to the door, all I could hear were low muffled sounds of someone calmly speaking. It sounded like they were behind the confessional curtain with a priest.
When the talk was over, they would both emerge from the room calmly, silently, with downcast eyes.
“What happened in that room?” I would ask my son the next day, when my husband wasn’t around.
“Nothing. Dad just talked.”
“Yeah, it was pretty boring. We would rather have you punish us, mom,” they admitted. “Dad takes too long.”
Later, when they were much older, and started to drive, I had to come up with something unique to put the fear factor into them so they would obey their curfews. They were much too old for the wooden spoon and my husband couldn’t stay up that late to give them “the talk.” One night the new fear factor unfolded by chance.
I fell asleep in a living room chair, waiting up for my son to come home. It was well over an hour past his curfew when I heard him quietly sneaking in the front door.
My eyes were already adjusted to the darkness, but he couldn’t see a thing. I moved silently, with a Ninja’s stealth, through the dark room to within two feet of him. And at the moment when he thought he was home free, I whispered, “What time is it?”
The neighbors probably heard his screaming all the way at the end of the block.
The fear factor. It worked; he was never late again.