Whiteland, IN

A New Kid by Friday: Changing Your Child's Behavior in 5 Days

Andrea Emerson

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Photo by Nicole De Khors via Burst

The same scene plays out in every grocery store. Mom warns her little tikes in the parking lot as they make their way into the store: “You behave, now. I’m not buying you anything. Don’t even ask.” Twenty minutes and a hissy fit later, mom is at the checkout counter with three different types of candy. Frustrating.

Ever wish your child behaved differently? What if you could have a new kid… by Friday?

According to Dr. Kevin Leman, it can be done. A family psychologist with more than 40 books and hundreds of appearances from CNN to Oprah under his belt, Leman is the author of the best-seller, “Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child’s Attitude, Behavior & Character in 5 Days.”

“We’re not talking about a cash for clunkers program here, folks,” he joked with a crowd of 500-ish parents at a family conference in Whiteland, Indiana. Rather, the father of five offered up strategies he guarantees will reverse children’s negative behavior in under a week.

Reversing misbehavior

It’s an alluring promise considering the proliferation of what you’d call... well, brats, in today’s society.

“Go to mall and sit for 10 minutes and you’ll understand why some mothers eat their young,” Leman bantered. “Kids even shorter than a yardstick are calling the shots,” he writes in his book. “They’re part of the entitlement group — they expect anything and everything good to come their way, with no work on their part, just because they exist.”

That sense of entitlement has a way of showing up in adulthood, hindering success in life, love and business, he says.

“Nothing in life is a free ride,” Leman writes. “The sooner children learn that, the better.” Rather, homes should cultivate mutual respect, love and accountability. “That’s true for four-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and CEOs.”

So far, so good. But changing a kid in five days? Seriously?

“That’s actually a scam,” Leman jests. “It doesn’t really take five days. You can have a new kid by Wednesday. It takes 48 hours.” (It turns out the extra days account for the prep work as parents get acclimated to his methods.) The catch, he says, is you — your decision to do the work required.

His promise: Follow his guidance and you’ll have “a kid who has figured out life isn’t about him. That other people count in life. A kid who says thank you for the things you do for him.” Guaranteed, Leman adds.

Two parenting extremes

Before diving into Leman’s methods, let's consider where many parents are today. On one end of the spectrum, Leman says, we have the authoritarian parent who says “I’m bigger than you” and has his children under his thumb. Kids raised under this parenting style, heavy on rules and light on relationship, tend to eventually break free and rebel. What’s more, these kids learn “they only count in life when they control and dominate,” says Leman.

The other extreme is the permissive parent, known for rarely saying “no” (or rarely meaning it) and providing the child with a Disneyland experience, making life as easy as possible. This is the kind of parent who advocates trophies for all participants, regardless of performance — a terrible idea, Leman argues, because children need failure to learn.

The answer, he says, is to walk the balance beam between authoritarian and permissive.

To that end, “Have a New Kid by Friday” is divided into five chapters with lessons for each day, Monday through Friday. Following the five-day plan is a troubleshooting section which addresses questions — from eye-rolling to biting and name-calling — submitted by readers and audiences of Leman’s workshops and media appearances.

A three-step foundation

Among the book’s key takeaways are the following:

Say it once, turn your back, walk away.

When communicating a boundary or command to a child, Leman advises no reminders, no raised voices, and no anger on the parent’s part. Say it once, and leave it be. If you insist on repeating commands, you’re implying you don’t expect kids to get it the first time and teaching them not to listen, he argues.

Let reality be the teacher.

Leman advocates allowing the natural consequences of poor decisions take their course. Did Susie fail to study for a test or complete an assignment? Let her fail or negotiate an alternate solution on her own.

Don’t go out of your way to fix the discomfort that’s a direct result of a child’s disobedience. Without consequences, Susie will have no incentive to make a better choice next time.

B doesn’t happen until A does.

When natural consequences don’t take care of the problem, Leman writes, “you help nature along.”

Say Susie wants to go shopping but she hasn’t yet cleaned her room or walked the dog, as you’ve requested. You calmly communicate she’s not going to the store until she completes her chores.

Leman recognizes you can’t make your child do something or behave a certain way. But if she chooses not to be helpful, you don’t have to do what she wants. “Don’t rescue your kids from the consequences of failed responsibility,” he writes.

Does it work? Leman says he’s seen “hundreds of thousands of families” transformed by these principles. Indeed, peppered throughout the book are notes from readers like Kendra, from Texas: “My three-year-old walked up to me and asked yesterday, ‘Mom, may we have a snack?’ This coming from the girl who would have ordered me a week ago, ‘Get me a snack!’ It works!” Kendra’s sentiments are echoed by hundreds of parents who’ve shared their experiences in Leman’s Facebook page and Amazon reviews.

For those up for the challenge, “Have a New Kid by Friday” is an easy read, blending step-by-step guidance and illustrations in Leman's likable, wisecracking style. Parent questions, feedback and Leman’s own experiences with his children are featured in the book, helping readers see real-life applications. In all, much of Leman’s methodology is rooted in common sense, even if it isn’t common practice.

Starting with the end in mind

Unsure or turned off by Leman’s approach? You’ll still benefit from the following exercise:

As you look down the road five, 10, 20 years from now, who do you want your child to be in terms of work ethic, self-image and the way he relates to others?

Quoting Stephen Covey’s “start with the end in mind” adage, Leman urges parents to begin shaping those character traits now. “If you don’t give up,” he says, “you’re going to hit payday.”

Let the metamorphosis begin.

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Andrea Emerson writes about human behavior -- why people do what they do, ways to upgrade your skills and live a better life. Got story ideas? Send them to andrea@andreaemerson.com.

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