Family life

Lies, bribes, threats: When your child disciplines you

We all know that kids often mimic adult behaviour. But what do you do when your child disciplines you?

1Anna

Anna has taken to mimicking her mom’s discipline tactics. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

I didn’t want to be a parent who “counted.”

And yet, “if you haven’t picked up your puzzle pieces by the count of 10…” has become a verbal threat around my apartment lately. I also didn’t want to be a parent who lied to their children, but sometimes certain questions catch me off-guard or I need a moment think things through. I didn’t want to do these things with my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Anna because I knew they weren’t effective parenting techniques. I see no reason not to be honest with kids—albeit with age-appropriate responses.

Read more: Lying to your child: New study shows negative effects>

I’ve written about my struggles with discipline before. And, sometimes, counting to 10 and light threats factor into that.

However, it didn’t occur to me until recently (and maybe it should have hit me a lot sooner) that I was teaching my child that lies and threats is an acceptable means to get what you want. I know young children mimic adult behaviours. The example I love most is when my friends’ toddler started walking around asking us “What’s this? And what does it say? And what colour is it?” because he was so used to his parents doing the same to him. Their theory, which I believe, is that he learned that this is normal social behaviour.

In my case, I’ve experienced the same sort of learned behaviour in Anna:

Exhibit A: My little manipulator

My co-parent’s mother babysat Anna recently. My daughter doesn’t have any known allergies, but one would think that, if she did, I’d have informed her guardian for the day. Yet, somehow, Anna managed to convince this woman that she is allergic to peaches—and still wound up eating the peaches after convincing my co-parents mother that she didn’t have to call me to confirm that it was alright.

Why would my daughter do this? I wonder.

Exhibit B: The most creative threat I have ever received

When I talk about using light threats on my child, I hope it’s a given that I don’t do anything terrible to her. Usually, they involve being sent to her room for a timeout, or having a privilege temporarily taken away. Anna is sensitive (not to mention manipulative), so she often responds to my discipline tactics with hysterics about how I’m not nice to her. For a couple of weeks, she took to telling me that if I didn’t apologize for disciplining her she wouldn’t be my friend anymore. She also said she would only refer to me as “Mean Mummy” from now on.

Read more: Six discipline fallbacks… and how to fix them>

More recently, she told me that if I didn’t do what she wanted—which was give her money for her piggy bank and make her dresses longer—than she would never draw me another picture again. And, here’s the clincher: She said that if she ever did decide to indulge me and create a picture, she would only ever draw circles for me.

Do your kids often mimic your discipline tactics? What do you do?

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a preschooler. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.