Parenting Beyond Today
Use Your Powers for Good, Not Evil
We've all seen "those" parents. The ones that look like they've been dragged through hell and back and their only child is barely out of diapers. Humph, we think. We know who wears the pants in THAT family. Putting our gavel aside, we begin to think of all the ways that we don't let our kids do that. Or, we nod wearily in similar defeat, thankful for someone else in our predicament. Here's the cold, hard truth. Our authority as parents is ours to give away. But, let's not confuse authority with control. We can't control our little tyrants, but we do have authority over them. It's all about position. The President is a human being, just like you and me, but he has authority over us. He can't control our behavior, but he can create and enforce laws that reward or punish that behavior. Too often parents allow their anger at being challenged to seep into their parenting decisions. Frustrated that our kids aren't listening or aren't obeying, we raise our voices, resort to name calling, and engage in invisible power struggles with our little people as if we didn't have the authority to reward or punish. In short, we engage inappropriately.
"HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU TO PICK UP YOUR SHOES," we yell. We've just handed control over to our offspring. We've essentially told them that they have power to make us angry and rip our self-control out from under us like a magician with a tablecloth trick. When, truthfully, a network of options are available to us. We could fine them money, assign them extra chores, take away a favorite activity, or simply hold the shoes for ransom until the kid earns them back. The consequence is a different topic, but one thing is absolutely necessary. To parent beyond today, we must do it with respect. Yelling, threatening, and physically reacting in anger are all traits of one type of person: a bully. Engaging in that way causes our kids to withdraw, get angry, become resentful, and gain the upper hand. Non-emotionally pulling the trigger on an appropriate consequence teaches them a valuable life lesson. Actions have consequences. As a great man once said, "with great power comes great responsibility."
Tip #2: Check your emotions at the door.
Kids Aren't "Like That"
I was speaking with a woman I had just met, and we were trading stories about our kids. She was bemoaning the fact that she had gone from a successful career woman to an at-home mom of a four-year-old. She simultaneously loved the chance to spend time with her daughter, and worried that her mental acuity was slipping every day she spent in the land of preschool books and toys. Plus, she finished, the house was a mess. Being the person that I am, I helpfully offered the obvious advice. Make a rule that, before her daughter could take out another toy, she had to put the first toy away. The woman sighed and stated, "My four-year-old doesn't clean up." I was almost positive she could hear the mental brakes squealing in my mind. I smiled politely and said what I hoped was a neutral comment, and we continued our small talk. But, inside, my inner monologue had begun.
Of course her daughter wasn't "like that." No kid is "like that." Oh sure there are some kids who love order and neatness and daintily or methodically put their things away. But, there comes a point in every child's life when she realizes that the mess she made is bigger than what she wants to tackle. This isn't limited to cleaning. At the beginning stages of discovering his identity, a phase commonly referred to as "the terrible twos," a little one suddenly decides he doesn't want to eat that food, wear this shirt, or follow that rule. That's only the beginning, folks.
Tip #1: Kids aren't hard wired to obey. They are hard-wired to challenge your authority. Even the compliant ones.
The Punishment Must Fit the Crime
... and punish the right person. Often, we just shoot from the hip and throw out a punishment that we haven't thought through. "Ok, just for that, we are not going to the baseball game today." Now, who did we punish? Not only does our little rule-breaker not get to go, but we don't either! And, if there are brothers or sisters involved? They have to miss out, too! The punishment needs to weigh the heaviest on the guilty party. This teaches him or her cause and effect. It allows the one who caused the problem to own the problem, and realize that what he or she does has natural consequences. Speaking of which, the punishment should fit the crime... not our mood. If we're not that angry, our little boundary-pusher may get off with a lecture and a warning that's all bark and no bite. If we're pushed to the edge, they may be grounded "for the rest of their life." Growing up, I had a few life sentences.
Let's say your son didn't clean up before bed. Rather than delay bedtime to make him rectify it or, even worse, pick it up for him while lecturing from start to finish, how about causing him and only him to miss out on something while you go on with your plans? Harsh? No. Real? Yes. If your daughter doesn't turn in her homework, do you think the teacher will punish the whole class? Will she do the homework for her? Of course not! So, lay out the ground rules, and play sheriff. Life will if you won't. Don't send your kid out into the world unprepared.
Tip #3: Punish the right person, the right way, for the right reasons.
Ask Yourself Why
Kids love to ask why. Sometimes, we parents should take a page out of their book. WHY? Why are we punishing the way we're punishing? Why aren't we punishing? Why are we making the call we're making? These are important questions to ask. Why? (I couldn't help myself.) Because what we do today informs what they expect tomorrow. By holding my kids accountable, I teach them that a boss, a friend, a spouse will eventually ask the same thing of them.
Here is a little known fact: yelling doesn't teach the right things. It teaches them that, if they make mistakes, others will withdraw emotionally from them. They'll become little perfectionists, never able to admit mistakes, because the stakes are too high. After all, they could lose important relationships if they are ever "wrong." Appropriate consequences (see tip #3) will teach them that mistakes will cost them something, but not someone. At least not the first time, anyway. My kids may lose a lunchtime treat, but they'll still get a hug from me when they come home. They may not be able to play their favorite Wii game, but I don't go on and on about how disappointed I am in them. If they have a bad attitude, they may lose time with the family; but, when they get their attitude adjusted, they can join the fun fully forgiven. Why do it this way? Because this is how healthy relationships operate. Without guilt trips, manipulation, and pouting. That doesn't mean we won't get angry. But anger shouldn't be the consequence. Nor should it inform the consequence.
In many ways, this tip should come before tip #3. We need to know why we are doing something. What are we trying to accomplish? Is it just that we need to punish "bad" behavior and we whip out whatever comes to mind? Or is it well thought out and purposeful? Am I sending my kid to his room because I want him to understand how alone he will be if he continues to annoy and pester others? Or am I doing it because I'm sick of looking at him at the moment? The answer to that question is vital. Know your "why."
Tip #4: Decide who you want your kids to be and parent with that in mind.
It Takes Two to Tango
The final tip is simple: Get on the same page.
If you're not, expect to be pitted against each other. You can't row a boat if you're paddling in opposite directions. There has to be buy-in from both sides living in the same house. Otherwise, a war has begun and you're already losing. If you're co-parenting separately, being on the same page is ideal, but you can't control your parental partner. Maintain consistency in your house, and your kids will quickly learn what the rules are there. You're still doing them a favor. Decide what your kid's tomorrow should look like, and parent with that in mind today.