Jeff Neal is a 34-year-old dad of three girls ages six, four, and two, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A few months ago, his oldest daughter started having tantrums and acting out. Although Jeff originally tried more traditional modes of discipline, he found that nothing was getting through to her. It wasn’t until he found a less traditional solution that he found success. Here, Jeff talks about the moment he broke through, and how it’s changed their lives for the better.
My 6-year-old started having tantrums. (To learn Fatherly’s best advice on how to stop temper tantrums, click here.) Personality-wise, she’s a little more strong-willed, definitely on the creative side, and likes to operate on her own terms. That’s great for her being an individual, but it’s challenging when I need to give her guidance and actually parent her, because although she’s 6, she still thinks she doesn’t need help with anything.
She’d have random outbursts. She started screaming at her mom and I. She would call us names. She’d call me ‘butthead.’ We joke around a lot, so I understand why she calls me that. But she’s definitely not supposed to be calling her mom that name, but she did. So I had to tell her, “You can talk to me that way but you can’t talk to your mom that way.” She’d get defensive and have these temper tantrums. The discipline I was doling out wasn’t working. I was at a point where something had to change.
So that’s when I started doing research. A lot of these parenting blogs and websites were saying that when kids act out that way, it’s because they’re not getting enough attention. That’s when I realized — well, I didn’t realize anything at that point. But I thought that there might be some truth to it. So I thought that she and I should just spend more time together. I was pretty open-minded to solutions at that point. So what I read on the blogs, I wouldn’t say it was surprising, but I was like, if this is what the person with a Doctorate in child behavior is suggesting, I’m going to give it a shot.
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Since my daughter is creative, I thought I should get her art classes. We found after-school art classes for her age group and signed her up for them. It was a really positive experience. She did really well with the class and liked the teacher a lot. I drove her to the art class and I’d sit in the classroom. I’d be in the background talking to her about what she was doing. There was a lot of reciprocation going on between us. I thought it was really positive interaction between us.
I knew it was a good use of my time to give my daughter what she needs. It was definitely helpful for our relationship, too. And, after we had done the class for a month, if I asked her to do something, she’d jump right up and do it. She was so much more cooperative, and there was so much less fighting in our house. It was really night and day. That’s when I realized that I just have to spend more time with her in general. That’s what’s being a parent is all about.
Once those art classes ended, I started taking my two oldest to playgrounds in the area. These are more than just playgrounds. They’re glorified gymnasiums that have neat tubes. They’re multilevel, with a bunch of padded ball pits, monkey bars, and everything. So, what was neat with those was I could take all three of my kids to those. In Lancaster County, there is also a Pottery Works. I take both my four and six-year-old to that. We go in, they pick out a piece of pottery and then they can paint them and we glaze it. We like that, that’s fun.
That quality time also works to help my oldest behave better because the Thursday nights are a reward. Like if I want my kid to get some chores done, or if she’s misbehaving, if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ll say, “We’re going to the Jungle Gym Thursday, but you need to clean your rooms. When I come home, mom has to tell me that you were both on good behavior.” Thankfully, they are. I use it as leverage. If mom tells me they weren’t or if someone didn’t clean their room, it jeopardizes their chance to go. So even if it comes to Thursday and they haven’t cleaned their room, they’ll go do it like 10 minutes before we’re about to leave. It works. And we’re happier for it.