Let's start with three questions:
- What percentage of typically-developing 4-year-olds lie?
- What percentage of 2-3 year olds have daily temper tantrums?
- How many times per hour do 3-7 year old siblings fight?
Why are these questions important? They're important because when your children engage in misbehavior like these, how you feel about what they're doing is going to depend on how unusual or bad you think their behavior is. Then, how you manage the situation will depend on how you feel. So, basically, the more unusual or uncalled for you think the behavior is, the more likely you are to get very upset and to handle the situation in an overly harsh—and perhaps even abusive way.
Dealing successfully with your own children and being a good parent involves praising your children, listening to them and having fun with them. It also involves managing kids' difficult behavior—gently but effectively. Reading a story at bedtime is easy; so is taking the kids to a movie or teaching them how to ride a bike. Those activities are part of the reality of parenting. What's not so easy is managing sibling rivalry, deciding what to do with the child who gets out of bed thirty times, or handling the youngster who whines incessantly with very little provocation. These aggravations and dilemmas are also part of the reality of parenting.
Many adults enter parenthood with visions of "picture perfect" children. They imagine a warm and loving home, as well as respectful and polite kids, all eagerly doing whatever is asked with only an occasional explanation from Mom or Dad.
As a veteran parent, you know this is not reality. But many parents have the idea that kids are just smaller versions of adults: reasonable and unselfish. This is the "Little Adult Assumption." Moms and Dads who embrace this myth often prefer the "modern method" of discipline—talking and reasoning. Unfortunately, many times words and reasons alone prove unsuccessful. Sometimes they have no impact at all, and then parent and child fall into the trap known as the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit Syndrome.
A basic principle of good discipline requires that parents, teachers and other caretakers have realistic expectations of what children are capable of doing. It is obviously going to be crippling to self-esteem if the child is not ready to do all the things the parents expect. You don't try to toilet train a 12-month-old, expect a four-year-old to know his multiplication tables, hope that your seven-year-old son and his four-year-old sister will stop fighting for good, or punish your three-year-old daughter because she can't clean up her room.