Dear Family Coach: My kids' behavior has been dreadful lately. I've tried everything, and I feel like I can't make a dent. The kids love Christmas and Santa, so I'm thinking about getting The Elf on the Shelf to encourage good behavior. Even though I've totally resisted because I have no time for this, I'm hoping the behavior will at least improve for December. Should I get it? — Hesitant
Dear Hesitant: Every year I hear parents say to their misbehaving kids, "Santa's watching." And every year I'm heartbroken for those parents. They are out of tools. They believe the only way to improve behavior at this point is to hold the loss of material gifts over their kids' heads. Now there are even more options for pretending someone all-knowing is watching your kids. First there was the elf who reports back to Santa to decide who's been naughty and who's been nice. Then the Mensch on a Bench showed up so the Jews don't feel left out. Now there are even Santa spy surveillance cameras (Can you say creepy?) that light up when Santa's elves are observing. Good grief!
The problem with all of these devices is that come Dec. 25, parents are left with no way to encourage good behavior. Omniscient elves only work for a few weeks. By mid January, parents begin banging their heads against the wall because they're fed up with the same behaviors that were plaguing them a month prior.
Instead of the Elf, the Mensch and the cameras, focus on concrete strategies to improve behavior. State your expectations for behavior in advance. Have explicit logical consequences for when expectations are not met. Make sure to follow through with those consequences, or your kids will know you are just bluffing. Lastly, make sure no means no. Steer clear from negotiation or changing your mind after you have denied a request. When your kids see that their actions have consequences and that no amount of begging or tantrums will make you change your mind, their behavior will improve without the holiday tricks.
Dear Family Coach: My daughter is a freshman at a college away from home. I'm having trouble sleeping at night, so I asked her to text me every night when she gets in. Friends think I'm being intrusive. Do I have to let go, and if so, how? — Tired
Dear Tired: Yup, you have to let go. There is no better time. Clearly, this transition is difficult on you, but don't put that on your daughter. That's your problem, and you have to solve it.
Your daughter presumably went away to college to learn to live on her own. She will need to make her own day-to-day decisions about where to go, what to eat, and when and where to sleep. It's quite cumbersome to have to remember to contact your mother every evening. Furthermore, just because she texts you saying she is home in bed doesn't mean she is actually home. This is a false sense of security for you.
Instead of burdening your daughter with this task, work on some positive imagery at bedtime. Imagine your daughter safely in bed reading a book. Picture her sleeping like she did when she was a baby. Tell yourself reassuring, positive thoughts. When your mind starts to worry or go to dark places, go back to your imagery and positive self-talk. Then, find mutually agreeable times when you can talk to your daughter about her life at college and catch up.
Dr. Catherine Pearlman is the author of "Ignore It! How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction." To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.