Discipline Tips From a Modern Day Mary Poppins

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In the USA, has the pendulum swung too far in accommodating our children’s needs?  While vacationing in France, I had a rude wake-up call.  I watched multiple French mothers, solo, with multiple children under the age of seven, read their books while their children kept themselves busy playing. I saw moms at the beach put their toddlers down for naps under the umbrella, and boom, asleep.  No hassle.  No negotiating.  No nothing. Just. Like. That. I looked at my husband (over the head of our very energetic preschooler), in sheer amazement.  Never in a million years would my son have gone for that.  His sleep required black-out shades, noise machines (with the sound of waves), his silky, singing, rocking — and the list goes on. Watching French parents and children at the park is an equally fascinating anthropological experiment in torture and envy.  Children heed their parents’ authority.  They politely wait for their turn on the see-saw.  Moms socialize with each other, completing their every sentence – while minding their children at the playground.  I’m not seeing that in the US, and I can’t help but wonder, where have we gone wrong?!  For help, we turned to an expert, not from France, but from England — a former nanny with extensive child-rearing experience, for her pointers from across the pond. — Abbie Schiller, CEO and founder, TMC

In general, what’s your take on parenting today?

Parenting today is worrisome for many reasons. There are a lot of great parents doing an amazing job, but there are some holes many are falling into:

  • Parents want to be their child’s friend instead of their parent.
  • We’re lacking boundaries, consequences, and follow through.
  • We don’t want our children to feel any discomfort whatsoever.
  • We’ve become too child focused and completely negating the needs of the mum and dad.
  • We’ve forgotten what’s important. Instead of teaching children valuable life skills like manners and how to cope with disappointment we’re so focused on an abundance of extracurricular classes.
  • We rely too much on iPhones and iPads to entertain our children when instead we should be teaching them patience, manners and how to behave appropriately in certain situations.

What are a few tips to get kids to listen?

  • Make sure they hear you. Screaming from another room typically won’t work.
  • Go to your child, get their attention, touch them and then deliver your request.
  • To get children’s attention, I always ask them to stop what they’re doing before I try to talk to them, so, “Please stop (playing, put down the book, pause the TV, turn off the iPad, etc.”) This way I have their full attention. They have a choice, stop what they’re doing and listen, or lose what ever it is they’re doing or using for the rest of the day. They have to listen.
  • With younger children I always remind them of their listening ears. I will make a joke, “Oh no you’re not listening, did you leave your ears somewhere?” They often respond, “they’re right here” while grabbing their ears and then I’ll say, “Oh good, can you put your shoes on then please?”

When a child is misbehaving, instead of resorting to saying, “no!”, “stop!”, “don’t!”, what should a parent do?

I always explain the behavior is unacceptable. For example: “Blocks are not for throwing, they’re for building. If you throw them again, I’ll have to take them away.” At a playdate you might say, “You need to play nicely with your friend and use your manners. If you do that again then the playdate will be over and we’ll go straight home.”

What if the child throws the blocks again? Do you give him/her another chance?

No, I wouldn’t give them another chance. After they throw them once, I would give them one warning and then if they threw them again they would lose the blocks immediately. I’d say, “That’s it, the blocks are going away now because you chose to throw them again.” If the child got upset I would explain, “You had a choice. I told you the blocks would go away if you threw them again and you made the choice to throw them again. We can try again tomorrow.”

How important are manners? How can a parent instill them when the child is 5-8, and has little exposure to them?

Manners are incredibly important, more so than speaking another language or learning to play a musical instrument. Good manners are a huge part of respect. So teach your child to respect themselves, others and their belongings. You can instill them by:

  • Consistently modeling good manners.
  • Reminding them to use their manners when they forget.
  • Insisting that nothing less than good manners is acceptable.
  • Underscoring the importance of saying “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”
  • When dining at home or in a restaurant, maintaining that the children remain sitting, use indoor voices and eat nicely, with mouths closed.
  • When at a playdate, ensuring the child says, “Thank you for having me.” or “Thank you for the fun playdate.” to the host, and helps clean-up the toys before leaving.
  • Emphasizing a respectful tone in which your children address you and other parents.
  • Making sure they learn to hang their jacket up, and put their clothes and shoes away, instead of throwing them on the floor.

What are the kind of battles parents should bother to “pick?” What issues should be left alone?

I encourage parents to always pick battles when it comes to manners, respect and anything to do with safety. I never let manners and respect slide. If a child is misbehaving in a restaurant I’ll give them one warning, “Please sit on your bottom nicely and find your manners. If you can’t behave respectfully we’re going home and you’ll be hungry”. If they continued to misbehave I would take them home. If a child speaks to me in a rude tone, I would immediately say, “Excuse me. Do you think it’s okay to talk to me like that? No it isn’t. Think about it and try again.” I wouldn’t help the child with whatever s/he needs/wants until s/he spoke to me with respect.

Battles like what your child wants to wear, or whether or not they should wear an extra layer of clothing due to hot or cold weather, should be left alone. Whether or not your child wants to eat shouldn’t be a battle. Put a meal in front of them and if they eat, great, if they don’t, you can’t and shouldn’t force them to do so.

Emma Jenner, author of Keep Calm and Parent On: A Guilt-Free Approach to Raising Children by Asking More from Them and Doing Less, is known for her role as host of TLC’s Take Home Nanny. Emma is a formally trained British nanny with over a decade of in-home childcare experience working with families in the UK and across the United States, with a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. She is the founder of Emma’s Children, a Los Angeles based consulting service whose goal is to enhance children’s lives by supporting and educating parents.


This article was originally published July 2014


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Posted in: Expert Advice, Discipline, Modern Parenting