Why does my son keep doing the same things over and over?
Dear Ms. Pat, Help! I know the purpose of disciplining my children is to teach them, not to punish them. But it does seem like if I were teaching them, they would learn to stop doing what they’re not supposed to do. So why does my son keep doing the same things over and over? It’s almost like the movie “Groundhog Day”. Every day he hits his sister because of some minor irritation. Every day we send him to his room for a time out. Every day he is sorry he hit his sister. Then—the next day, he hits his sister for some minor irritation, we send him to his room for a time out, he is sorry he hit his sister. Same thing every day. What do you think we are doing wrong? Our son is six and our daughter is 2.
I don’t think you are doing anything wrong! Your son’s behavior is not what it should be, and you are appropriately disciplining him. I do have a couple of thoughts. First, ask yourself some questions. Is his little sister just very good at pushing your son’s buttons? Are you also dealing with her behavior? Is a time out an effective disciplinary technique for your boy? For many children it is; for others having to stay in their rooms doesn’t faze them. They may even enjoy it! Would taking away a privilege be more meaningful to him? Parents need to know their children well enough to know what really matters to them. That is a key to finding successful discipline techniques.
Second, are you helping your son learn what to do differently next time? He may be getting the message that you don’t want him to hit his sister, but he may need your help in figuring out what to do instead. For example, after each disciplinary situation, have a conversation with your son. Reassure him of your love, ask him what he did wrong, and ask him what he will do differently next time. Be sure he can give you an answer. If his little sister irritates him, what should he do? Use words to ask her to stop, come to you for help, walk away from her—help him have some acceptable alternatives to his current unacceptable behavior. This is an important step in discipline that really does make it a teaching opportunity.