Focus on the Family

Successfully Handle Behavior Problems

By Shana Schutte

If you could enlist one person to help you raise your kids, who would it be? A super nanny? A parenting coach? How about an expert child psychologist?

OK, we can't introduce you to a super nanny or help you find a parenting coach — but in this series of articles, we can introduce you to expert child psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman, who has more than four decades of experience helping parents raise their kids.

Dr. Leman is the author of numerous books including Have a New Kid by Friday. In this book, Dr. Leman gives humorous, insightful and effective advice on many behavioral problems for every childhood age and stage. If potty training is driving you crazy, he's got it covered. If you need help teaching your kids to become more respectful of one another, he can help. And if you want to prevent your teens from lighting up, Dr. Leman addresses that, too. In this module we'll share Dr. Leman's expert advice on these and many other parenting challenges, including eating and undereating challenges, wardrobe issues, tattling and put-downs.

Before we begin, Dr. Leman has a few reminders for parents to keep in mind when dolling out discipline.

Remember that your child wants to please you

During my fourth year as a teacher, I taught art to high-energy, hormonal sixth-graders. By March of the school year, I was convinced that although I enjoyed teaching, it wasn't God's calling for my life. So, one week before school ended, I announced that I would be moving on. I wasn't surprised that some of my students weren't sad that I was leaving, but I was surprised that one student in particular cried when I announced my departure.

Anthony was obnoxious, but he was also one of those kids that you couldn't help but love. Many days when he bounced into my classroom, he found my wheeled chair and rolled it around the room like he was on a racetrack. I can't count the number of times that I told him to get out of my chair, stop talking or to quit pestering other students. Anthony never seemed bothered by my rebukes; instead, he often smiled like a cat that ate a mouse, which on occasion drove me crazy. I thought that because I had been so hard on him that he would cheer at my departure; instead, he was sad when I said goodbye. "Why?" he asked. "Why are you leaving, Miss Schutte?" His eyes filled with tears.

His response shocked me. I expected other students who I hadn't had so many problems with be sad to see me go, but not Anthony. After all, he'd been in more trouble with me than a barrel of mischievous monkeys. "Why are you sad?" I asked.

"Because I like you," he said. Even though Anthony hadn't seemed to care about what I thought, he actually he loved me.

In the same way, sometimes it may seem that your kids only want to drive you nuts. But in reality, they love you and want to please you more than you think. This is important to keep in mind as you discipline them.

In his book, Dr. Leman says that you don't need to have a Ph.D. or a lot of money to be a good parent. Instead, he says, "You have all you need. You know the biggest secret of all: Your child wants to please you. She can't stand it when she knows you are unhappy with her. She wants to know you are a team."

Nurture this desire your child has to please you by loving her well. Then, discipline will be much easier for both of you and your child will respond more positively to the creative discipline techniques Dr. Leman provides.

Don't make mountains out of molehills.

My grandmother always says that in marriage there are some things that you should make a big deal (or mountain) out of, and some things that you shouldn't. For example, an affair is a mountain, the color of your new car is a molehill. Sadly, many couples make mountains out of things that should have remained molehills.

This same principle applies to disciplining children. Many parents with a desire to make sure everything is perfect with their kids make mountains out of molehills — which, in turn, makes life tedious and exhausting. For this reason, in his book, Dr. Leman emphasizes that it's important for parents to decide which issues are behavioral mountains and which are behavioral molehills. Defining these mountains and molehills will guide you in which battles to fight with your kids and which to let go.

Don't be a "Slap-it-together" parent

When my grandfather was alive, he was far from a carpentry perfectionist. Instead, he was a "slap-it-together" kind of guy. This meant that if the pipes underneath the kitchen sink were busted, Grandpa would slap together something using duct tape and some left over pieces and parts that he found in the garage. If he had to build a shelf for his workshop, he would "slap up" a few crooked boards with a few old nails and "viola!" he was done. He rarely had a solid plan on how to fix anything.

When it comes to parenting, moms and dads can't be like Grandpa. Instead, they need to have a plan for dealing with discipline and behavioral problems. After all, every winning football team has a plan to deal with opposition; every winning business has a plan to deal with upcoming challenges; and every winning couple has a plan to deal with relational issues. So it's not surprising that all winning parents need a parenting plan. That's what this module is all about — it's about having a plan, and it's also what Dr. Leman's book, Have a New Kid by Friday can do for you. The results will amaze and delight you.