Dear Dr. Ray,
I have to get firm and say “I mean it!” or “now!” to get my kids to listen. And they’re starting to ignore me even then. Help. ―I mean it.
It sounds like your kids have trained you to resort to what I call addenda. It’s a sticky trap that can pull in even the best of parents. What are addenda’s? They are words or sentences tacked on to a parental request or command designed to add weight to our original words.
A recent survey ranked the top seven parental addenda’s: 1) I mean it! 2) Did you hear me? 3) Now! 4) I’m not going to say it again! 5) l said (then repeat original directive) 6) Don’t make me come over there! 7) First, middle, last name (varies from child to child).
What’s the problem with using addenda anyway? First, as you are finding out, they don’t work. In the beginning, they grab some attention or compliance, but their power fades with time. Second, they convey a false message. Do you only mean it when you say, “I mean it”? If you don’t say it, does that mean you don’t mean it, and in fact, you are “just talking to hear yourself talk”? Third, addenda tend to get loud. The more they are used, the easier they are to fire off with increasing volume. And it’s a short step from high decibels to high emotions. After a while, that can take its toll on both you and little Adler. Last and most important, when it comes to discipline, the persuasive power of words isn’t improved with more words. If a twelve word request isn’t heeded, why would a fifteen word one be? A truism of discipline is that the teaching power lies in the consequences, not the words. Addenda are attempts to add weight to words that have lost their weight. So how do you withdraw from addenda? It’s probably best to go cold turkey. Stop using them. What can you put in their place to give yourself more authority with your kids? There is one kind of addenda that works pretty well. Here are examples. “Hazel, please pick up in the family room.” Addendum: “If I ask you again, you’ll vacuum it, too.” “Butkus, leave your brother alone, or…” Addendum: “you’ll head for your room for half an hour.” “Don’t nag me, Constance, because…” Addendum: “the next time you ask the answer is automatically No.”
Action addenda’s work. Word addenda’s don’t, not long term anyway. Authority comes from consistently meaning what you say. And meaning what you say comes from backing your words with consequences, not more words. So don’t do it anymore, Ok? I mean it. I’m not writing just to watch myself write. Do you read me?