A system engineer knows how to stop your screaming kid at the grocery store

One way to look at your actions as parents is to ask: What is this interaction teaching my children? To take this further, I apply a lesson from system engineering: What is the result of the action?

Here is an example. How many times have you heard a mother in a grocery store saying, “Johnny, don’t touch that. Johnny, I told you to stop. Johnny, one, two, three… Johnny, you do that one more time. Johnny, I told you to put that down and don’t touch it. Johnny, please stop it…”

What has the mother taught Johnny? Johnny knows that the first time does not count. He can do anything he wants and all his mother will do is talk some more.

My wife and I raised 12 children. We had different punishments for different children based on what was effective. We imposed them on the kids for just two things: if they told a lie, or if they did not do what we asked the first time.

If we had to ask them to behave a second time, that always accompanied some type of punishment. People were amazed that our children did what we asked the first time. We did not repeat ourselves. We had children who would come down and say, “Mommy, I wrote on the wall with crayons. I won’t get into trouble right?”

Our response: “Indeed, that is right. You will not get punished because you told the truth. However, we have to go to your room and clean off the crayons.” The consequences were invoked, but there was no punishment for telling the truth.

Sometimes it is not convenient to raise kids. If you have them at the store, and they are screaming and you have to tell them to stop twice… what do you do? In our case, we would stop shopping. Drive all the kids home. Put the child in the corner or whatever the punishment for that child was even if it took an hour or so. Then we would have to go back to the store and hope the cart was still there so we would not have to start the shopping all over again. It cost time, money for gas, and, to say the least, an interruption to our planned shopping for the week.

But what did we teach the children? That they are more important than anything we are doing. They are the most important thing in our lives.

Hence, think about the long-term consequences of your actions. What will the kids think about it in 20 years, 10 years, even in one year? This is my best advice.

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