One of my clients recently described this scenario. While enjoying a Sunday afternoon at the pool, she noticed a family arrive with two young kids. While a bit active, everything initially went okay. Then, after being in the water with Dad for 20 minutes, their son started spitting water at another child nearby.
Dad told his son to “Stop that. It’s not polite.” His son initially responded by stopping.
Within minutes, he was spitting again. Now, Dad raised his voice. His son stops…briefly.
Soon, he was spitting and laughing, as Dad again reprimanded his son. This time, however, he went over to his son and spoke softly to him. He stated, “If you spit again, we will leave.”
Again, his son was spitting a few minutes later. Dad then takes their son by his hand, and walks out of the pool, and states, “We are going home.” Having been at the pool less than 30 minutes, it is likely that Dad wanted to stay.
Now, we get to crunch time. The child begins screaming and crying. He pleads, “Don’t take me home. I promise I will be good.” Dad appears moved and tries to soother his son.
Now, this real-life story can end in one of two ways. You are likely getting the picture.
Before describing what Dad did, let me suggest a few basic rules that can make summer fun at the pool a piece of cake. You can ensure healthy behavior, cooperative behavior, and happy kids if you follow these simple ideas.
1. The pool is for having fun. So if it’s not fun…you are outta there!
This makes it simple. Whether in the backyard or at the community pool, kids need to understand that the pool is where families come to have fun. If your kids aren’t having fun (i.e., they are bickering, complaining, not liking their towels, or just being miserable) they will get out of the pool. No questions asked. No explanation is needed.
Likewise, if your kids are making it so others aren’t having fun… they’re out as well.
2. Use the 3 strike rule.
Whenever it’s not fun for everyone:
- The first time, it’s strike 1: Sit out 10 minutes. That’s right …beside Mom or Dad quietly.
- The second time, it’s strike 2. Sit out for 30 minutes. Ouch.
- The third time, it’s strike 3. You are outta here. We are going home.
Each time, make sure you have no conversations and no extended explanations. Just let them sit quietly beside you until they have done their time.
3. Anything you consider extreme, we’re outta here.
If your child hits another child, is dunking other kids, or behaving dangerously, just take their hand and walk out. That’s it. We are done. Not forever. But for today…we are done.
The key is in the action. Not in using threats or lectures.
You teach limits with clear consequences…not another discussion. Kids don’t need all those words…it just gets in the way.
4. Make sure you notice healthy behavior.
When kids are playing well, not demanding your attention, and getting along peacefully, make sure you walk by and smile. Just wink when you see everyone getting along. Jump in and swim by gently touching them on the shoulder while they are having fun. Join in with the fun.
Avoid the common mistake of sitting out and reading a book, or socializing when things are going well. Of course, you can still do this. Just remember to consistently take a break, and invest moments of your attention into the healthy behavior you value.
When you add it up, these simple ideas will virtually guarantee your success.
Few words. Clear actions. Kids will get it!
And remember: Be fair. Make sure you explain the 3 strike rule well in advance. Before you ever leave the house, lay it out. Whether 5 or 15, it will work. The earlier you start, the more you won’t have to worry about this when the kids are 15.
And by the way, in the story I started, Dad dried off and took his son home. Mom stayed with their daughter. There was mutual support for the decision. Dad took action to support his words.
If I could coach him, I would ask for fewer words. Fewer warnings without consequences…and more action early on.
Just understand: The 3 Strike Rule allows kids to learn. That’s what you want. You want to set it up so that they have opportunities to get it…the 3 Strike Rule allows them to do just that.