The one anti-tantrum weapon every parent needs

He knows the power of 'the look'.
He knows the power of 'the look'. 

I have based a large platform of my parenting on a drunken conversation I had in my backyard with a proudly childless mate prior to the birth of my first son. Propped on foldout chairs under the stars solving all of life’s problems, as you do, he made me swear that once a parent I would not let my kids run rampart, that I would produce the sort of obedient sprogs that would not deter him from barbecues at my place.

My friend, Andy, explained that his father could stop him in his tracks by arching a single eyebrow, and this sounded like a pretty good parental trick. Better still it was not done with the terror of the belt, but with a combination of discipline and respect.

And it seems Andy and I are not alone in thinking that non-verbal parenting is a good skill, CNN columnist LZ Granderson recently bemoaned the lack of “the look”, a sufficient scowl that can make a child think twice about hurling that packet of pasta at his younger brother. An eyebrow that lifts not only in height, but which raises the stakes if your child continues to misbehave.

The look can have no ambiguity ... you must throw the look with the passion that Derek Zoolander threw Blue Steel.
The look can have no ambiguity ... you must throw the look with the passion that Derek Zoolander threw Blue Steel. Photo: Getty Images

Granderson said he was sick of kids running amok in public: “We know you don't discipline them at home because you don't possess ‘the look’. If you had ‘the look’, you wouldn't need to say ‘sit down’ a thousand times.”

Well, LZ, I hear ya. And I am proud to say that I have spent a lot of time and energy developing “the look”, and it works quite well. And I agree with you that it sounds old school but if tiki drinks can make a comeback then so can some good old-fashioned respect for your parents. Granderson says in his article that parents don’t like to discuss not liking kids, hell I discussed it for years before actually having them. And dislike of other people’s bolshie brats has been a key motivator in my attempts to make my kids behave.

The look is very handy because it can save you the embarrassment of yelling, it is a quiet, yet intimidating exchange, where everybody knows where they stand and which need not bother any surrounding adults.

My eldest son is five and can be halted with a non-verbal cue. I would go so far as to say that I have “the looks”. Look one: two raised eyebrows, or “Are you kidding me?” Look two: the single raised eyebrow with a tilted head, or “You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out. And it don't make no difference to me, I'll make another one look just like you." (as comedian Bill Cosby’s dad so memorably put it)

The look is very handy because it can save you the embarrassment of yelling, it is a quiet, yet intimidating exchange, where everybody knows where they stand and which need not bother any surrounding adults.

But the reason the look is not popular is not just because parenting has gone crazily politically correct. The look takes a lot of time and effort to achieve.

First you have to perfect it. The look can have no ambiguity, if it does you are dead. You must throw the look with the passion that Derek Zoolander threw Blue Steel. If you need additional motivation pretend you are staring down a pack of wild animals because if the look fails the result is the same, you will be eaten alive.

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If you are unsure of your look there is a simple test. You know the look works when it can give other people’s children cause to pause. Throw it at a random naughty child, see if it sticks.

The look also takes time because it must be backed up by The Action. In the early days when you give the look it has no meaning. You must give it meaning by following up with a swift “shock and awe” action, such as taking your child to their room. Or to time out, or the naughty corner or whatever Super Nanny thing it is you use. But remember, when you think the look is too much trouble, a naughty corner cannot be taken to the shops with you, the look is portable.

For back up, the look can be teamed with The Tone. This is in parenting books, a no-nonsense lowered vocal tone, that says that the next thing that happens is going to be unpleasant. My wife struggles with the tone. Often it sounds to me like she is making a benign request, as you would of a sales assistant or polite stranger. In return my tone upsets her and as she thinks it sounds like I am going to make good on Mr Cosby’s aforementioned threat.

But there is one thing I must point out to LZ, you should be wary of being too smug about parents whose kids are aiming M&Ms at your head from the back row of the plane. Very few parents are happy when their kids are mucking around in public.

It pays to remember at this time that the look is a little bit like the pill, it is only 98 per cent effective even if used correctly. So, you may not be seeing a whipped parent kowtowing to a little monster, but simply a good parent whose look has misfired and who is now getting a few disapproving stares of their own.

- From Daily Life

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