Do you ever feel that since becoming a parent, it’s like you’re on a giant see-saw and you spend most of your time trying to keep it balanced?
You do whatever you can to please your children and family life runs more easily because of this, but you feel you’ve lost control over the kids and that they hold all the power. That doesn’t feel great. You put your foot down and make sure the kids know that demands need to be met when you say so. Now, you’ve got control and that feels good. Until the battles are constant and everyone’s upset. Then it doesn’t feel good at all.
If only the kids didn’t refuse to do what’s asked all the time. Things would be perfect.
But while it feels like the problem is children refusing to do what you say, the real problem is the battle over control.
“A Need For Control Is Part of Being Human.”
As humans, we need to feel in control. Having control over our environment keeps us safe, and safety ensures our survival. When we think our control over a situation is threatened, we feel threatened. When we feel threatened, we stop listening. We put our foot down. We want things done our way or else!
Children are just like us. They also need to feel in control. The higher the need for control, the bigger the push back when that control feels threatened. Cue defiance, aggression, and meltdowns.
THE PROBLEM WITH EXPECTING OBEDIENCE
Obedience isn’t all bad. There are lots of situations where obedience keeps us safe. Looking before you cross the road decreases your risk of being hit by a car. Not touching a hot stove means you don’t get burned. Listening to a teacher in class means you know what to do with your work, which is a skill you need to help you hold down a job.
The problem with obedience is when we expect children to follow ALL demands because we asked them to. It’s the expectation that children shouldn’t ask why. They shouldn’t try to negotiate a deal that works better for them. They shouldn’t stand for something they believe to be unfair.
We’ve all had situations where we wish we’d stood up for ourselves, and situations we wish we’d walked away from.
“To be able to stand up for yourself and to go for your dreams, you need to be able to question things and draw your own conclusions.”
You need to know how to see things from other people’s point of view and how it fits with your existing knowledge. You need to be able to negotiate and compromise in a caring manner. And most importantly? You need to know when you can negotiate and compromise and when not to and have the confidence to do it.
While a major benefit of loosening our control over our children is the fact that day to day battles will begin to disappear, the most important benefits are long-lasting. Your children will have skills to set them up for life as a confident teen and adult.
BLASTING BATTLES AWAY
Making changes can be hard. Where do you start? Here are 5 simple tips to help you start saying goodbye to battles and hello to cooperation and teamwork.
- Ask yourself: Does it have to be done NOW, to can the timing be negotiated?
Sometimes things need doing RIGHT NOW. Like stopping so you don’t get hit by a car. But for most things, a little careful planning means you can negotiate when the demand needs to be completed. For example, “Do you want to brush your teeth before your story, or after?” Or, “Do you want to put your shoes on now, or just before we leave the house?”
2. Try to avoid making demands when children are doing something they enjoy.
No one likes to be interrupted. Especially when we’re enjoying ourselves. Humans are motivated by pleasure. So shifting from pleasure to something boring or something we don’t want to do isn’t motivating. Doing the boring thing BEFORE the fun thing works better because we can look forward to the more pleasurable activity.
3. Offer to do it together
This is a great strategy for demands you can do together. Tidying up on your own is boring. It feels lonely. You feel singled out – like it’s a punishment. But if you have someone helping you, you feel supported and cared for. The task gets done more quickly. Now, as the parent, you don’t have to tidy up in equal amounts. The fact you’re there helping is what’s important.
4. Make it part of an existing routine
We are creatures of habit. It saves us energy and makes life predictable. And predictable makes us feel…? Safe. Try putting a demand (if it fits that is) within a routine that works well. Or create a new routine where the demand is just part of what happens. By having the demand in a routine, it becomes, “something that I do,” rather than an additional demand.
5. Try to make it fun!
Children love to have fun and they learn through play. If you can turn the demand into a game, the demand vanishes. It’s now a game and games are fun. I know not everything can be turned into a game. But the more you try to make some demands fun, the demands that need to be done right now will be easier for children to follow because they won’t feel like they have to meet demands all the time.
No one became a parent for the battles. While the idea of loosening our control might be uncomfortable at the beginning, the benefits far outweigh that discomfort! Go on…try one (or two or three or all of them) this week. What have you got to lose? Except for maybe a few battles?
Cindy Charest is a PSYCHOLOGIST, PARENT COACH & WRITER with BA in Honours Psychology, an MSc in Developmental Psychopathology, and an MSc in Applied Psychology for Children and Young People. She is also a qualified CalmFamily Consultation and offer BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm workshops and courses to those in Scotland. Cindy has spent the last nine years working in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)