Monday, April 12, 2010


Parents Who Bluff
Julie Jenkins Sathe
Author of Enlightened Discipline©

You know who you are. And you and I both know how it is: You’re at your wit’s end and your child refuses to….get in the car. You ask, “Johnny can you get in the car?” Then you demand it, “Johnny. It’s time to go. Get in the car.” Then you make it worth his while, “If you get in the car, we can go to the store on the way home.” Then you make it a bargaining session, “If you don’t get in the car, we can’t have pizza tonight.” And finally, when all else fails you BLUFF.

“Okay. I’m leaving.” You stomp your feet to the car, hoping you didn’t take the plunge over the deep end….waiting….worrying….will he come? Please come. I’m out of ideas, now….

And what if he doesn’t?

Your four-year-old is on the sidewalk NOT in the car and he is completely in control of this win-lose scenario. OMG what will you do? Is he moving toward the street? How long do I rev the engine? Oh, God this isn’t safe!

Once a month I see this “technique” used when parents at my preschool, in utter frustration do not know what else to do. They are completely at the end of their rope and have stepped into the abyss of THE BLUFF. Why is it wrong? Because it is a bluff and you can’t (or certainly shouldn’t) leave your toddler or preschooler, even your school age child in most circumstances….alone to make your point and as a method to make them do something. But, deeper than that, it is a breach of the basic rules of Enlightened Discipline’s philosophy which herald back to: Safe, Kind and Clean…safety being always the first rule of parenting and ….the most basic element of kindness which is honesty.

So here it is. I’ll be blunt. Bluffing is lying.

It is leverage that cannot be used. Of course, it isn’t safe to leave a child alone, really alone. But more than that it is a breach of trust, of love, of comfort and of confidence in YOU. Even if your child hops into the car and you get away with it this time, eventually it will not even be successful. Eventually he will wonder, “Will she really leave?” If you keep walking down this parenting road and with this tactic, you will reduce yourself to the driving around the corner when your seven-year-old doesn’t comply… and fast forward your life to: locking the door on your 13-year-old that breaks curfew.

All of these bluffs may work to manipulate your child a few times but alas, they chip away at your basic principles and the trust and honesty you want to establish with your growing child.

Once a month at my child care center a parent will try this with their stubborn child, “Jenny it’s time to go home. Okay, you’ll have to stay at the school all night.” The parent will walk out the door and usually the child will begin to scream and wail. Of course, we intervene and explain that we aren’t open and no one is will be here. Therefore you must go home with your mom. Too bad for the parent, we had to bust their bluff. But we have an obligation to their child, too. One of honesty and safety.

Five Steps for Getting Children to Comply!

1. Stop and get eye to eye contact with your child. Find out where they are, mentally and emotionally. Find out what they are in the middle of doing and communicate that you see them and make sure they ‘get’ you.
“I see you are still finishing the book, but my watch tells me we must go now.”

2. Don’t ask a question unless you will allow their response. Is it really an option? “Do you want to go?” is begging for a response. It is not clear communication, if it was intended as a direction. So when you pull the rug out it may seem like a trick. “It is time to go” is much clearer.

3. Give your child a warning and time to prepare. As parents we forget that we have, in many cases, asked our child to make the most of a situation we have created. They may feel completely out of control. Then, they finally get their bearings and we are ready to leave. For instance, you are chatting after a social event. Your child has been bored and ready to go since you arrived. You stop to visit with friends for a few moments which seem like forever to your child. Then, your conversation is over and you are in a hurry to go to the next thing on your list. But, your child has just made acquaintance with a passing puppy; just found flowers to look at; or just realized they can run up and down the hallway….and now you want to leave! No fair! They just got comfortable. Give them a warning, and then follow through. “Okay, Roger I’ve finished my conversation pet the puppy three more times then we must go to the store so I have time to make dinner.”

4. Use all of your senses. Quit hollering at your child and go to them, look at them and touch them with kindness. Hold his hand; put your arms around her; give him a big hug and thank her for waiting for you. Then, walk hand-in-hand to the car.

5. Make it fun! “I’ll race you to the car.” “Let’s take off our shoes and walk barefoot the rest of the way.” Hold hands and try to walk backward. Make sure you choose something that is possible for your child. Try to avoid picking them up and carrying them. This again reinforces their lack of cooperation and may make them feel more out of control.

You will feel better, more honest and have more success if you quit bluffing, bribing and manipulating your child. Be with them. Look into their eyes and get what they are feeling. You won’t get these moments back. Turn off your cell phone and give your child your undivided attention. It’s worth it!

Julie Jenkins Sathe is building a reputation for her humorous and straight forward
inspirational workshops for both educators and parents. She has published
two books, Enlightened Discipline and Teens! Change is Your Choice.



Julie Jenkins Sathe
Author of
Enlightened Discipline©

Maybe it’s your first child and you really haven’t figured out the next few steps from toddler to prekindergarten. Maybe it’s your last baby and you really want to relish this “toddler” time because you are keenly aware how fast childhood passes. Or maybe you have simply lost track of the development and abilities your child has developed…..who knows all the underlying reasons?

You may not see it, but as you pick up your four-year-old child from the child care center where he has: recited the alphabet, weighed and measured in science, negotiated his playthings with his peers without conflict, and has begun to write parts of his name (albeit in mirrored writing), you greet him at the door with his pacifier, his binky or his sippy cup. Huh?

Or maybe your child has successfully used the toilet all day in child care and when you arrive to transport her home, you switch her from underwear to diapers.

Or maybe this is your scenario…you have company over for dinner. Your preschool child plays dress-up in the play room with their child. The kids have spent hours making up names, trying on hats and scarves, putting on beads and baubles…. and when they wind down, getting tired your child is ready for her bottle. Her bottle? Reeeeally?!

Every so often I hear someone refer to their 7 year old as, “Baby Johnny”; or their 4 year old as “the baby”. (Not to be confused with “my baby” which any mother might use even when describing the youngest of her four children who are now approaching middle age.) But the reference I mean is: “the baby”, (who is now approaching 1st grade or beyond). It’s as if you have freeze-framed your child. What is up with that?

So, you’re feeling a little beat-up by this article. I’m pushing your buttons and maybe I haven’t exactly described YOU but you can see a little bit of your behaviors. So, what am I getting at?

We, as parents have to determine what ‘developmental’ needs our child has and which habits, limits and crutches we are promoting far beyond necessity. Even though childhood is lovely and sweet, even though we are mature enough to know it is the best of times….we must allow and encourage our children to mature from one step to the next. We need to allow our toddler to walk because SHE CAN! We must encourage our three year old to hold and use utensils, because that is the next step. We must trust that our children can HOLD IT to the next toilet or communicate their needs well enough that the car can be stopped. We must allow them; encourage them to … grow up.

It’s true. If you can’t see it, if you are too close, if you have blinders on….listen up to your friends, your neighbors and watch your children’s peers. Do they have bottles? Are they sucking on a binky? Not all comparisons are fair because all children develop at their own personal rate, but there is a range of development that your child should be close to. But most importantly, you as a parent should never be inhibiting that growth. If you are, then YOU may be the problem.

One of the big ones I have encountered is parents who feel their child simply isn’t ready to toilet independently, to be potty trained. (Not full time. Not a night time. Not during church. Blah, blah, blah….) You work, you cook dinner, do laundry, pay bills, you have a two page list of all the things that you don’t have time enough to do. The risk of putting your two-year-old, three-year-old or four-year-old in underwear is just is too big of a risl FOR YOU.

As parents, this will not be the first time that you will need to give your full time and attention to your child and set your needs, plans and desires aside. But it’s just momentarily. Keeping your child in a diaper so that you can avoid a wet seat in the car, or not have to change the sheets in their bed is not in your child’s greatest interest. In this article, I won’t get derailed into the conversation of potty training vs. independent toileting and how to successfully reach the latter, because if you are the parent who is delaying your child’s underwear-wearing progression for your own reasons, put yourself on notice, it is more than toileting!

Usually parents who have found themselves in one of these scenarios mean no harm to their child. Read that again. I know you mean no harm to your child. In fact, most parents are usually acting out of love and the desire to hold on to the sweetness of the magical years of childhood. But, I promise you that your child will unfold much more appropriately make better friendships and feel better about the relationship with you if you can follow his or her lead to the next natural step of growth and development. Change is hard. But… not for kids, for us adults. Kids change and adapt at a rapid pace, if left to their own devices. We are the ones who resent change, are fearful of failing and sometimes present that to our children until they indeed begin to carry our fears and reluctance and make them their own. Most children are naturally fearless. That’s why we need to teach and protect them before they know all the reasons why.

So do your best. Observe and listen to your friends. Ask the advice of your child care professional or pediatrician. “Is it okay for my 4 year old to have a bottle at night? Is it unusual for my preschooler to want his binky at home?” You want to support your child’s growth. You want to encourage their personal development. You want to be your child’s escort into their next precious step of life. Enjoy all of the steps. Don’t get stuck in one. Have fun!

Julie Jenkins Sathe is building a reputation for her humorous and straight forward
inspirational workshops for both educators and parents. She has published
two books, Enlightened Discipline and Teens! Change is Your Choice.