Call Your Child’s Bluff

Since I get his stuff in an email newsletter format, I don’t really have a good way to link or reblog what he posts. But Kirk Martin has some really great parenting advice and I always appreciate his emails. I decided to share today’s email, because I thought it was especially good, not to mention the fact that I think he was specifically targeting me with this advice. So, what follows is Kirk’s hard-earned parenting wisdom for when a child decides he’s just not going to do his part:

(You can find more of Kirk’s stuff and information about his materials at

Call Your Child’s Bluff

Calm is not a doormat. We don’t let kids “get away” with anything. Quite to the contrary. When you are in control of yourself, you can see clearly and discipline effectively. When you are yelling and upset, your kids are actually in control of you. And that never works well. Here’s a tough discipline tool.

When kids declare, “I don’t have to do my chores,” our typical response is to rationally point out how much we do for our kids, how we need to work together as a family, how important it is to learn the value of a good work ethic for future success. Blah blah blah. Your kids don’t care. So here’s what I did with Casey when he was younger.

Casey marched into the room and declared, “I don’t have to do my chores and you can’t make me.” I sat down and replied evenly, “Hey, I’m great with that choice IF that’s the way you want our home to work. I’m not going to MAKE you do anything. As long as you understand your choices have consequences. So next time you want dinner, Mom doesn’t have to make it. Next time you just have to go to Best Buy, I don’t have to take you. Excellent.”

He walked away thinking, “Wow, this is cool.” The next morning, he came downstairs. “Dad, I’ve got a hockey game this morning. We have to go.” I sat down, crossed my legs and said matter-of-factly, “Casey, yesterday you chose new house rules. I don’t have to take you.”

“Dad, come on. This is my hockey game. I can’t miss this.”
“Casey, you chose this. Not me.”
He started getting upset. “You-have-to-take-me-now!” His face was red. I could see my wife in the other room with pleading eyes. She knew what was coming. 5-4-3-2-1. A huge meltdown.

“My coach is going to bench me! I’m letting down my teammates! Dad, this isn’t fair!”

“Casey, I completely understand why you’d be so upset and frustrated. You’ll have to explain to your coach and teammates why you missed the game.”

“Okay, okay, I get the stupid your-choices-have-consequences thing. I’ll do all my chores after the game. Can we go now, please?”


Needless to say, it was a miserable day. He fumed and complained and whined and yelled the entire day. I sat and endured it. I didn’t lecture, badger or justify anything. That’s a huge key. Do not make this about YOU because they are making the day miserable. “Well, if you had listened to me, I wouldn’t have to do this. So it’s your fault!” That’s us being a big baby and throwing our own tantrum, isn’t it?

There is a deep inner joy that comes when you know you are putting your child’s future ahead of your present pain. Read that again. This is hard work. But you are putting up with the present meltdown and ugliness because you know you are building something eternal and strong inside your child.

Later that day, I heard him muttering about “the stupid leaves” as he walked outside and began raking the leaves. I wanted to jump out of my chair and yell, “Don’t you dare call my leaves stupid…I planted the tree that made those leaves…if you would have listened to me the first time,” but I didn’t. That would have been me scoring cheap points and inflaming the situation. That’s me being a baby again.

So I walked outside, grabbed a rake and started helping him. We worked in silence together. Nothing needed to be said. He had learned his lesson. I didn’t need to score cheap points. After awhile, I said softly, “Remember when you were little and we used to jump in the leaves? Let’s make a huge pile of leaves and jump off the trampoline into them.” An hour later, we wrestled in the leaves and I held my little boy in my arms as we looked up at the sky.

“Dad, I’m sorry about today. I shouldn’t have called you those names.”

Ahhhh, that’s what happens when you LEAD your child to a place of humility. You get contrition instead of the forced apology.


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