Tell them once!




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One afternoon some years ago when Belle was still a young pup she and I were resting on the bench in our shade garden enjoying the beautiful day, the soft summer breeze, and the delightful fragrance of nearby Jasmine. Much to my chagrin our neighbors, whom we loved, had just put their house on the market. A black Mercedes pulled onto their driveway and voices soon broke our reverie.

A well-dressed middle aged woman in heels stepped from the car and loudly announce, “Chloe, why don’t you and “the boy” stay outside while I show your mother the house again. You’ve already seen it several times and I think it will be better if he stays outside.

Chloe agreed and she and “the boy” took seats on the bench at the end of their driveway. He was about three; a cute little fellow, with curly blond hair, dressed in a red polo shirt with red and white striped shorts. I in a minute I would see he was ill mannered, rude, and untrained.

He jumped off that bench and in less time than it took the humming bird I was watching to dart across my small garden he was in the middle the neighbor’s back yard. Running down the lawn he turned back to Mommy and shouted “I’m going to jump on the trampoline!”

“Oh, Honey, please don’t do that, they might not want you to use it.”

Without a response he was in the center of the trampoline shooting toward the sky.”

Please Honey, come off! You could get hurt!”

Jump, jump, jump, jump.

Please, come down. Please, pretty please.

My stomach was starting to ache, Jump, jump, jump, jump!

“Please come over here, I’ll lift you down. I’m going to count to three, then you come. Please”

Jump, jump, jump! “One.”

Jump, jump, jump! “Two.”

Jump, jump, jump! “I’m going to say three, so please come!”

Jump, jump, jump. “OK, I’m going to count to five. Why don’t you count with me?”

Jump, jump, jump…!

I’m sure you get the point. He didn’t come after five, so she counted to 10. By this time I was out of the garden and on my way into the house will Belle tagging alone after me.

“Mary,” I exclaimed. “I told Belle that if that family buys the neighbor’s house, we’re moving! There’s no reason a kid should act like that, or I should say a mother should act like that! I’ve seen it all!

Lucky for us they didn’t like the house and I never saw them again. Mary and I breathed sighs of relief and recalled the first time we took Belle to obedience class.

Jo, the trainer, put all of the human trainees in arm chairs in the center of the room. Then she asked us to put our dog to the left of our chair and tell her to sit. “If she doesn’t sit, push lightly on her back until she does. They say, ‘Good dog,’ and pet her lightly on the back.”

I did as Jo bid us, and said, “Sit Belle, sit”, Then I pushed on her back and said again, “Belle, sit, sit, sit, sit,” and pushed on her back. Before I could get her sitting there was a long, straight finger in my face and Jo said sternly, “Tell her once!”

My face turned red, I pushed a bit harder on Belle’s back. She sat. “Good doggie!” I responded.

This was the first lesson I learned from Jo, there were many more, but this was the best, “Tell her once!” I taught that lesson to many parents over the years.

Imagine if Mrs. Not-my-new-neighbor had taught her son that lesson how much easier it would be for her to parent and I suspect Ms. Realtor would have taken both her and Junior into the house. Who knows they may have even become our neighbors and good friends.

Another event makes the point. I went to the grocery to get a bottle of milk and came across a three year old running, I kid you not, running on top of the egg cartons in the cooler next to the milk. Standing by watching and smiling was a young woman who looked to be in her late twenties.

Please come over here Sonny, so I can lift you down. He stopped turned and looked at her, laughed and danced on the cartons. I was aghast! “Lady,” I shouted, (sorry, I was so flabbergasted) “Your son is crushing the eggs!”

“I know,” she laughed. “I can’t get him to come down.”

“I can!” I replied as I lifted him off the eggs and put “gently” on the floor.

“But, you made him cry!”

“Yes I did, but you’re making him a juvenile delinquent.” I admit, I may have been out of place but she was paralyzed to act. Before either of us could say any more the store manager was by our sides.

Mother explained what happened and how she was unable to get her little boy off the eggs. She did not mention I had been successful, but offered to pay for the eggs. I excused myself and left the store.

The lessons are obvious; if you want to have an easy time parenting, set rules and See the source imageenforce them. If you want to make parenting difficult, let your kids set the rules even if they are still preschoolers. Pre-school kids lack the ability to make good rules on most subjects.

I once had a parent who tried to let her kids make their own decisions while still in early grade school. I asked her who she worked for and she told me she was a teller at Bank of America. I asked her she would do if the president of BOA board of directors stopped at her window and told her he was quitting in the morning and she was going to be named President and CEO. After some thought she realized her son was no more prepared to run his life than she was to run BOA.

Tell them once and then, BE THE PARENT!



  1. What a great post, Dr. Par!

    When parents don’t set the rules, they run the risk over time of disliking their kids. If they set the rules and stick to them, they raise children they can be proud of.

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