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.