Myth: If you don't respond to every misbehavior with a firm hand, you'll lose control of your kids.
Truth: It is simply not possible to respond to every misbehavior with a firm hand, given the variables of situation, mood (yours and theirs), and the ever-changing roster of annoying behaviors children acquire as they grow. So it's reassuring to hear that at least one discipline expert doesn't think you have to. What matters more than the much vaunted consistency rule, asserts Anthony Wolf, Ph.D., is that your children know when you mean business -- and act accordingly. "Kids know that at any particular time in any situation, they may or may not be allowed to get away with something. What they'll respond to is, does my parent at this moment mean it?" says Wolf, author of The Secret of Parenting: How to Be in Charge of Today's Kids -- From Toddlers to Preteens -- without Threats or Punishment.
The beauty of Wolf's prescription is that it allows for flexibility on behaviors that really aren't major or even predictable enough to put into your family rule book. "Take noise in the house. Yesterday, it didn't bother you so much; today it does. Even if you let him bang the drum in the house yesterday, if you say no today in that particular tone of voice that says, 'I mean it,' he'll pay attention," Wolf explains. The trick here is to stand firm when you decide to crack down: "You have to pick and choose your battles. If you're not in the mood, it's worse to waver because you're not up for a big battle than it is to say from the start, 'Guess what? It's your lucky day.'"