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Investigative Solutions

The "Nit Wit" Countdown
By Bill E. Branscum   ©2001

"One . . ., two . . ., two and a half . . ., two and three quarters . . ., two and seven eighths . . . ," when I hear a parent doing the "nit wit countdown," I cannot help but wonder what they are thinking.

I don't know if some parenting "expert" suggested that nonsense in a best selling book years ago, or if this is some universal mechanism parents just naturally resort to when they don't know what to do. Either way, it looks silly to me.

I don't want to teach my children that they can ignore me and do whatever they like until I finally get exasperated enough to reach three, or 47, or 196. "Stop that," means stop that right now, right this very instant. In my house, or the grocery store, or wherever -anything less than immediate compliance is unacceptable.

If they aren't going to mind me because I am their Dad, why would they mind me once I demonstrate that I can count to three? What happens at three anyway? I'm not even going to comment on those folks I have seen who get to three and start counting over again.

There is a lot of controversy these days on the subject of disciplining children - most of the experts apparently have none of their own. Readers must remember that "experts" are paid to pontificate; it looks to me like they'll proclaim their opinions, whether they have any clue what they are talking about or not.

It's easy for the expert to dispense drivel, as if they are gifted with some sort of devine insight, but it's the parent, not the expert, who will be there to mop up the mess in the end.

There are few statements one can make that have no exceptions, but I can say with absolute conviction that every prostitute, drug dealer and serial killer on the planet is somebody's child, and somebody's failure. Whether or not they got there because their parents listened to experts is irrelevant; no "expert" is going to step up and claim responsibility for their failures and it wouldn't help things one iota if they did. When it goes in the toilet, it's yours - all yours.

Parenting magazines are replete with lots of good advice, but they also feature a certain amount of ridiculous gimmickry too. Writers prattle on with nonsense that sounds good just to have something to say. Just once, I'd like to see a columnist say, "Sorry folks, I really tried, but I cannot think of anything meaningful, or useful, to say this month."

I can understand them though - they have a job to do and they are expected to write something. What amazes me, is that parents will respond to "new methods" just because they saw them in a magazine they picked up at the supermarket.

I remember when someone invented "gasohol." It didn't sell very well because people were reluctant to entrust the fate of their precious automobiles to something that had not survived the test of time, no matter who endorsed and recommended it.

One would think that parents would be as careful, and conservative, when it comes to their kids. Parenting, in my view, is no place for willy-nilly experimentation.

I am a single father raising four children. My children are healthy, well behaved, and well adjusted. It did not, "Take a Village," and I do not beat my kids. I do not barter, negotiate or beg with them either.

How many times have you seen a child stomp their foot, scream, pitch a fit and win. I simply cannot believe the behaviors I see out of some parents. My kids see the same things I do - they cannot believe it either!

I've said this before, I say this a lot - you train children exactly the same way as you train a dog; most parents would do well to learn a few things about training dogs. While I am quite sure that a lot of parents recoil at that assertion, I am equally sure that any competent dog trainer knows exactly what I mean.

Tell a dog to "heel," and do the nit wit countdown - you will train that dog to know that "heel" means something that you may, or may not, require that they do at some time in the future. Generally speaking, most children are at least as perceptive as the average dog.

Tell a dog to "come" and then relent when he growls at you. That dog will soon growl at you every time it would prefer to do something other than follow your directions. Children are at least as independent minded as a dog.

The same line of thought applies to physical correction. Beating a child, like beating a dog, is ignorant, counter productive and illegal. Generally speaking, people who abuse children and animals are not very bright.

Equally ignorant, in my view, are people who proclaim that "spanking" is wrong and abusive. I have spanked each and every one of my children, I have never enjoyed it, I have never injured any of them, but I have spanked them and I will do it again as needed. They're my kids, I love them and I owe it to them.

Spanking is a last resort, not a training methodology. Training children (or dogs) properly takes TIME, patience, consistency, positive reinforcement and correction - but most of all, TIME. Parents who don't have time for their children should take a hard look at their priorities.

There is no substitute for time - not with children, and not with dogs. I understand how demanding life is, and how frustrating it can be, but the parent who cannot (or will not) make time for their children is setting themselves, and their kids, up for disaster. I personally think most of the "reasons" fathers come up with to account for their failures in this regard are nothing more than "excuses." Lame, lazy and irresponsible excuses for not doing their job.

Patience is not the same thing as tolerance. I am infinitely patient with my children, or anyone else's children for that matter - but there is not one ounce of tolerance in my soul. Kids and I get that straight first thing, and we always seem to get along just fine.

Children do not know what is expected of them unless, and until, you take the time to teach them. A parent has a responsibility to teach their children everything they need to know. That takes patience and perseverance.

Until someone screws them up (a little scientific terminology I threw in for the intellectuals among us) kids and dogs generally want to please us, and they try to please us, most of the time. Sometimes, it takes a while for them to learn the rules, and some of them take longer than others, but parents must rise to that challenge and invest the time it takes.

Children and dogs don't always try to do right - sometimes, they deliberately try to do wrong. When I see that look, when I see that a child is "testing" me, I hammer them! That doesn't mean I hit them - I might or might not - but I do come raining down on them like a ton of bricks.

My children, any children I am responsible for, soon learn that if they test me, I do not tolerate that nonsense and I will win. I am the Dad here, it's my job, I will always win when they test me - right then, right there, always!

You cannot blame a dog for sniffing at a mousetrap anymore than you can blame a child for trying to see how flexible you are, and how far you can be pushed. That's the nature of kids and dogs, but dog's don't generally test a mousetrap with their noses more than once. Like I say, kids are at least that smart.

That brings me to consistency. Children should see the same results from the same behaviors each and every time, but parents tend to be lazy. Lazy parents create their own problems - and their children's.

If your dog gets in your garbage every day, how do you deal with that? If you beat him today, ignore him tomorrow and feed him extra the next day, you confuse him. That would confuse anyone - but lazy parents do exactly that with their kids.

Today, Dad's in a bad mood and he makes it real clear that noises from the back seat will get someone killed. Tomorrow, Dad's preoccupied - he's deep in his own world, so it's okay to scream, yell and fight back there. Next week, while ignoring the kid's noise, Dad decides he's too busy to make dinner and stops at McDonalds. What kind of sense does that make to a child? It makes none to me.

Consistency isn't always easy, but it is important.

Praise and positive reinforcement are important too - to all of us. When we work hard, we want someone to notice; if they don't, we resent it.

If you get paid to wax floors, whether they pay you a little or a lot, you still want someone to notice that you did it exceptionally well. You're an adult, it's your job, nobody owes you a pat on the head - but if you don't get one, you're not going to work as hard next time are you?

You ever see a professional football player make a touch down? What happens? It's his job - that big, burly, beast of an adult who gets paid a fortune to push pigskin across a white line expects his pat on the head when he does it. He gets it too.

We all expect our efforts to be noticed. Why would children feel any different?

It takes TIME to keep track of what our kids do, and more time to acknowledge their efforts and accomplishments, but nobody will spank the parent who doesn't invest time in positive reinforcement. Nobody spanks parents for their failures - there is a price to be paid for them though.

Spanking is a form of correction and a sign of failure, on both ends. Too much reliance upon correction is a serious problem - like anything else, preventive maintenance is better in the long run.

I say that, but don't get me wrong, I'll whack a little butt in an instant. At home, the grocery store or in church - it doesn't matter and I really don't care what anyone thinks about it either. Grocery clerks seem to somehow devine that they will do well to keep their opinions to themselves.

Have you ever heard a man say, "My kids don't have to love me, but they will respect me." Speaking of nit wits, I wish someone would tell me where this sort of idiocy comes from. That's just fine within the context of corporate America, or the military, but within the family, love and respect go hand in hand.

Parents who control their children, and endeavor to manage their behavior through fear and intimidation are lousy parents who should never try training dogs. Generally speaking, dogs are not as smart as children and they are not smart enough to develop normally in spite of pitifully poor training.

In my house, I am not a tyrant. My children are much more involved in the making of all decisions than other people's children typically are. We have meetings, we discuss things, and I carefully consider their opinions and I make a genuine effort to use their suggestions wherever possible. The better thought out, and the more rationally presented, the more likely I am to go along with it even when I would have done it differently or done something else altogether.

BUT, when I say, "It's time to go home," I never get whining, crying or fits. We got over that with each of them permanently the very first time they tried it. That starts when they are babies - parents who promote negative behaviors might just as well shoot themselves in the feet.

Don't misunderstand - a crying baby has my attention right now. If they are hungry, wet, colicky or just tired, they have my full and undivided attention. To me, a rash is often a sign of parental incompetence - sometimes not, but inattentive irresponsible parents cause most of them.

BUT (and I do understand about beginning sentences with coordinating conjunctions) when a child of mine first tries to manipulate me by crying, whining, stamping their feet or otherwise "pitching a fit," they immediately get a whole lot more of my attention than they want.

Yesterday, at 7:00 PM, we left Disney before it closed. My children did not ask to ride one more ride, my children didn't scream, whine or cry and nobody stomped their feet. Instead of surly looks, I got a chorus of, "Thank you for bringing us."

When I tell my children to be quiet, I get instant silence - what do you get? You, whomever you are, get EXACTLY whatever you have expected to get, and insisted on getting, since the day they were born.

If you look through the pages of this website, you will see lots and lots of pictures of my children. Do they look abused, do they look unhappy, do they look fearful and intimidated - beaten into submission perhaps? Not hardly. They are happy, healthy and well adjusted.

I know it is hard, I know it is frustrating and I know how very, very lonely and stressful single parenting can be. Do your best; do it with your head, do it with your heart and do it with your love.

Good Luck and God Bless



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