Suppose your child is 16 and has not learned to cooperate and get along. He does what he wants, when he wants, where he wants, how he wants, with whom he wants to do it. Use the following illustration as a case in point as you think about how likely Randy’s parents are to get him to cooperate and behave more appropriately.
No one can tell how Randy is going to be from one minute to the next. Sometimes he is almost nice; but usually he is in a bad mood and hard to get along with. Anything can set him off.
This morning before school is a perfect example. Sue and Bret are coming in from the bus talking and minding their own business. For no reason, Randy yells, “Hey stupid!” to Bret and then says something to Sue only she and Randy hear. Whatever it is, it embarrasses Sue and Bret says something back to Randy. That is all Randy needs.
It looks like Bret would know to just keep his mouth shut. Everyone knows how Randy is. You wouldn’t want to repeat what Randy says; but he can be heard screaming all over the building.
When Mr. Richards arrives, Sue is crying. Bret is on the floor holding his head; and Randy is standing around acting like the whole thing is Bret’s fault.
Imagine Randy is your child. What approach will you use? Some parents take the tough guy approach. They are going to knock some sense into that boy. Here is how one father fared with the tough guy approach.
Butch shoves clean clothes into his duffel bag and tries to sneak out the hall door where he can leave by the out side cellar stairs without going through the kitchen.
His father is fed up with him and has grounded him. This time, the crisis has been precipitated by an incident between Butch and his mother; and Leroy (Butch’s father) has, at his wife’s urging, stepped in to handle Butch. There is no way Butch is going to put up with that from either of them. He’ll get out of there however he has to do it.
He almost makes it; but just as he starts to open the hall door to go down to the cellar, Leroy yells, “Get your hand off that door. You’re not going out of this house. Put down that bag and get your ass back into your room.”
Butch drops the bag, opens the cellar door, and starts down. Before he is on the first step, Leroy jerks him back and is between him and his escape. “Who do you think you are? If you think you can just waltz out of here, you’ve got another thing coming to you; and I’m just the man who can give it to you.”
Butch has grown past six feet tall and is looking down at his father now. Leroy stretches up to scream louder in Butch’s face. Butch reaches for Leroy, for his throat. There is a hint of panic as Leroy says, “You keep your hands off me. You just try it and I’ll kick your ass all the way up between your ears. Any day you think you can handle the old man, you just try it.”
Butch’s rage is blind. The violence building within him for years is no longer to be suppressed. He forces his hands under Leroy’s arms, lifts him off the floor, and slams him against the door jam. As Leroy falls, he swings at Butch who catches the blow with his arm. With blind fury, Butch’s fist crashes into Leroy’s face once, twice, three times; and Leroy slumps and staggers back. Butch sees what is happening but does not reach to help as Leroy tumbles down the cellar stairs.
Can we agree Leroy’s approach did not work out at all well for either him or Butch? Here is what many parents often miss. The problem is not the outcome. It would not have been any better if Leroy had knocked Butch down the cellar stairs. The problem was Leroy’s tough guy approach.
When Butch was younger and got into it with his mother, Leroy simply pulled him up by the scruff of the neck and threw him into his room. When Butch was a little boy, his mother was strong enough and big enough to get the job done by herself. Back then, Leroy usually just stood by and watched.
The tough guy approach is never appropriate. Getting children to cooperate and get along is not a matter of who has the most power or who is bigger and stronger, although that approach may appear to work for a while. Eventually, children get older, stronger, smarter, and able to take care of themselves. If not, they frequently become the victims of someone else who can abuse and bully them. Either way, the tough guy approach leads to the children’ missing the opportunity to learn how to successfully resolve conflict, how to behave reasonably and appropriately.