When Less is More: The Secret To Better Parent-Child Relationships

There is a tremendous societal trend toward pouring more and more energy into children’s lives, without pausing to consider the consequence of such ongoing efforts or to notice how well this approach is working. Before I continue, let me clarify: This is not meant to imply that I endorse the old school philosophy that “children should be seen, not heard.” Instead, this is about how we are teaching our children false lessons about relationships and life.

Too Much Asking …With Little Positive Response

One of the frequent complaints I hear from my clients takes form like this: “My son gets in the van, and I ask him about his day…and all he does is a grunt. His attitude is bad. He only likes to complain. I try to be nice and ask about other parts of his day. But getting a positive answer is like pulling teeth!” This continues day in and day out, as mom and dad keep working harder and harder at having a healthy conversation while their child is offering less and less.

For other families, the response takes an even more negative tone, with disrespect coming back at mom whenever she inquires about their day. Pre-adolescents might offer, “None of your business” and hide in their iPods. Yet, mom continues to be kind and keeps inquiring nicely, trying to dance around the bad attitude. If mom doesn’t change, this will not get better.

The Rule of Reciprocity: Give and Take Makes the World Go Round

From a very early stage, children need to learn about this rule. It helps because it means that if you share your toy, I will share mine. It also means that if we play my game first, then I will play your game next. You listen to me, and I will listen to you. Basic stuff…but critically important.

Reciprocity is taught in many ways to our children, and if they learn this lesson well, they will end up with many healthy relationships—at home, at school, and on the playground.

Teaching Reciprocity The Easy Way

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Model What You Want

The first way we teach is by modeling how to do relationships. If we pour all of our energy into our children by asking, asking, and more asking, then we model that the child is the center of the universe and all that is required of them is a ‘grunt.’ The more we model this, the more we can expect more grunts and negativity, despite our hard work at engaging our children.

We also need them to hear us talk about our day, and how we focus on the good in our lives…rather than just complaining. This is how we teach what we want!

Meet Your Child Where They Are At

This is a crucial lesson for parents. When you get this, you will experience a relatively rapid change in the quality of your relationship with your child.

Here’s how it works: If your children are giving little effort to have a conversation, don’t push. Pull back…and meet them at the same level they are at. If they are disrespectful when you inquire about their day, stop inquiring. If there are constant complaints, stop being interested in this perspective.

Instead, pull back …and wait…NOT with anger or frustration, but with peace of mind. You will be ready to engage with them, when they begin to show initiative, and can be more positive and offer more. They will come around. Just be patient, and watch for the transformation.