Monday, November 7, 2011

Irrationality In All Its Forms

An episode of 30 Rock entitled "Gentleman's Intermission," has Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) at her wit's end with her 80-year-old father (Buck Henry) who has decided to have a mid-life crisis forty years too late. 

He decides that he is bored with his wife;  he puts on teenage clothing and takes off his glasses so he can "play the field." Liz goes to her mentor, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) after failing to convince her father to go home to Mom. Jack asks for her father's cell number, and Liz, relieved, says, "You'll talk some sense into him?"
Jack chortles. "Oh no. He's being irrational. You can't be rational with irrational people. The only thing irrationality responds to is fear."

He gets on the phone and, affecting a Brooklynese accent, pretends to be the outraged boyfriend of a woman the old man has hit on. "I'm a corrupt cop! My brother is a corrupt fireman! He's going to set you on fire, and I'm not going to report it!"  Liz's father is docilely on the next bus home.

For some reason, what popped into my head with this was another example of irrationality in our day-to-day lives: tantruming children.
When it comes to children, I have a motto: Do not negotiate with terrorists a.k.a. Do not reward bad behavior

First I provide a safe environment for the kid to flail (a bed or floor). If the screeching and thrashing doesn't taper off after a while, I boom, "DON'T YOU DARE KICK ME!" That usually stops the legs in midair, and the bawling is reduced to aggrieved sniveling. As Jack Donaghy said: Fear.

I would not advocate peace talks. 

If one is pressed for time, meaning one can't wait until they scream themselves limp, here's the plan. Threaten removal of a given rather than offering a bribe. "If you don't stop screaming I will take away your new toy," vs. "If you stop screaming I'll get you a toy." The latter simply reinforces the bad behavior, while the former provides an unappealing consequence. Fun things are not a given, they are earned.

And be sure that whatever is the threat, that it is carried through. No chances. Say it, and if they don't stop in ten seconds, get up and say, "I'm going to take it away," and reach for it. If that doesn't do the trick, take it away and put it on top of the closet.  

I can guarantee you, if the kid sees swift repercussions, he won't misbehave so quickly again. He is out of control, and he knows it. He wants to know that when he's lost it, the parent (or aunt?) is cool and calm.

Always, always, follow through on consequences. Not punishments, consequences. One pours water down their neck, one gets wet. Simple common sense.

And don't try to have a rational conversation with a toddler going "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" about what he's feeling or why he is screaming. If it didn't work for Liz, it won't work for you. Usually it can be solved with a good night's sleep.


%Shocked% said...

I used to believe the same thing... Then I spoke to my sister and cousins about that theory and how well it worked for them. Most of them told me that they walked into raising children with just that style of parenting. Every one of them told me that eventually they gave up. Apparently it stops working after a while, or, the parents are just too exhausted to carry through with it.

I think the saying , "easier said than done" fits nicely here... Unfortunately...

I also discovered that the booming "DON'T YOU DARE KICK ME!" works well for a very long time, but then they catch on that nothing terrible will happen if they actually do kick you, so that stops working too Also unfortunately lol

Princess Lea said...

I've been an aunt for more than half of my life, and I can say that if they maintained it, the kid would never tantrum again. It is all about consistency. While the first few times would be terrible, the kid would get with the program.

%Shocked% said...

A bit later than planned, but I'm back. I came across this article soon after this post and couldn't help but laugh at the timing. Enjoy.

I agree with you that if, if, if it were maintained it has a good chance of working. I just think it's pretty much impossible to be consistent that way. A concern I'd have would be the moderation of love vs. "harshness" shown.

As an aunt/uncle, it's easy to be makpid when they act out and then shower them with love; I don't think it's as easy for a parent.