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Why It’s So Miserable To Crack Down on a Child’s Negative Behavior

We’ve all said it before. “I know I should start putting him in time out whenever he disobeys, but it’s so hard to follow through because I know he won’t sit there. He’ll scream and try to escape, I’ll have to physically make him sit there, and then we’ll all give up because it didn’t work.”

Or, “I know I should take her tablet away whenever she hits her brother, but it’s so hard to follow through when I know she’ll just get worse after I take it away. She’ll scream so loud the neighbors will think I’m beating her, and then she’ll end up bugging me to death the rest of the night because she’s so bored. It’s a lose-lose.”

Guys, I completely understand what that feels like.

Most of the time, we know how we should parent. We really do. Every once in a while, we’re completely baffled by how to handle a situation with our kids, but for the most part, we know the right answers.

We just don’t always know how to follow through. Or we don’t have the gumption to do it.

Sometimes, we just need someone who loves us to gently say, “Rip the band-aid off, dude. You’ve gotta stick with it all the way to end.”


But the truth is, when you first make a decision to tackle a behavior problem with a child, it’s going to be miserable for a while. It’s going to feel like you made a terrible mistake and that what you’re doing isn’t benefiting them at all.

From the words of a mother I spoke with yesterday, your kids might even say, “You hate me, don’t you?”

Why is it so awful to start a new discipline routine with kids? Do they really believe that we hate them or that we’re trying to take away all of their joy in life?

The very basic answer is this: whenever a child is suddenly no longer reinforced in a certain behavior [that they’re used to being reinforced with] they’re going to have an extinction burst.

An extinction burst is the collection of escalated emotional outbursts that a child has after they’ve stopped being reinforced (either positively or negatively) for a behavior.

Long story short, whether they were reinforced by something you did do or something you didn’t do, they’re going to raise hell about it now that you’ve changed the expectations. Odds are, they don’t even realize they’re making you miserable. Even for older children, they’re usually just reacting to something that frustrates them, in an effort to get it changed back.

Emotional manipulation, however, is a skill that even the youngest children have.

You’ll hear things like, “You hate me.”

“I hate you.”

“Why are you doing this to me?”

“You’re a mean mommy!”

“This isn’t fair!”

“Nobody else’s mom/dad cares about this.”

The list goes on and on! As long as you have never seriously damaged your relationship with your child (in cases of abuse), then these are words are just emotional manipulation on your child’s part.

They know you don’t hate them. They know why you’re doing this. They know it’s fair. They know that other kids’ parents are also holding them accountable, and that if they aren’t, those parents aren’t very good parents.

They know.

They’re making these outrageous claims in an effort to get back their easier way of life. Hang in there! Don’t give up on what you’ve said.

Once you’ve said it, stick with it until the behavior is changed. You don’t have to be harsh or demanding or rude. You just have to be consistent. Your actions need to match your words, or you’re nothing more than a stream of empty threats/promises, and they’ll never listen to you.

Don’t lose heart. You are making good choices for your children by teaching them accountability, and even if it’s hard in the first week, it will get easier.

You will look back in a few months (or years) and be glad that you stuck it out.

Think about the behavior(s) you wish your children did or didn’t have, and then map out a plan on how you can help them get there. Yes, it’s their choice to have those behaviors, but YOU are the reinforcement to those behaviors. It starts with you, and it ends with you.

Find encouragement in the fact that every parent who’s gone before you has felt like a bad parent at some point or another (almost never true!), they’ve decided to make a change, and then they’ve experienced the extinction burst.

They made it to the other side and so can you.

Why It’s So Miserable To Crack Down on a Child’s Negative Behavior

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2017). Why It’s So Miserable To Crack Down on a Child’s Negative Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2018, from


Last updated: 16 Dec 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Dec 2017
Published on All rights reserved.