Teach…Rather Than Control. Ask…Rather Than Demand.
Does this sound familiar, “I am just so tired of repeating myself over and over. It’s so exhausting! Why don’t the kids just listen?” Without question, these are likely the most common words expressed by parents seeking my help with their children. These are good parents, working hard to do the right thing.
So…Why Don’t Their Children Just Listen?
One of the false assumptions that we seem to be born with is the idea that children ‘should’ just listen. Yet, over and over, I find that many children simply do not listen to their parents.
Please don’t be mistaken: I am not supporting disrespect, lack of responsibility or defiance. I support children cooperating and listening to parents. However, this ‘should-based’ thinking causes us to think incorrectly about the relationship we have with our children.
Incorrect Thought #1: When Not Listening, It’s Time To Command.
This line of thinking leads us to using lots and lots of commanding words, in an effort to gain control. Commanding or demanding words are often forceful, and have the implied sense that ‘you must do this now.’ It is fierce. It is intense. It is controlling.
- Pick that up.
- Pick that up now.
- I said; Pick that up off the floor.
- What’s wrong with you? PICK THAT UP NOW.
- WHY DO I HAVE TO SCREAM AT YOU? PICK THAT UP!!!!!
- DON’T MAKE ME GET MADE AT YOU. PICK IT UP NOW!!!!
Just notice, would you like to have anyone speak to you that way? I doubt it.
Demanding language doesn’t work well to gain cooperation, or to create an atmosphere that you can enjoy. It is also exhausting and frustrating. (The additional hidden curse, that awaits and eventually comes back to haunt us, is that our children begin to speak to us in this way! This brings an entirely new level of frustration into our homes.)
Truth: It’s Better To Ask Than Command.
Asking is simple. It is easy. We all know how to ask.
And yet, many of us fall into patterns of rarely asking our children. Instead, it’s command and demand. It sounds much more like a drill sergeant commanding the troops. The problem is that the drill sergeant is losing control over the troops…because it eventually stops working. Your commanding words simply don’t work after a while.
Yet, for many of you, you ask and the kids don’t listen. So, what do you do?
Incorrect Thought #2: When Kids Don’t Listen, I Should Take Control!
While this seems innocent enough, and even suggests perhaps a parental responsibility, the fundamental problem is this: When we take control of things, our children stop learning.
It’s like we are the director, and they follow our commands. With compliant young children, this appears to work fairly well. However, the commands work less and less effectively over time. However, let’s throw in a more challenging or oppositional child and the weakness of the ‘control’ approach is immediately evident.
We try to take control of them, and they fight back. This gets very ugly very quickly.
Truth: Controlling Kids Won’t Work. They Must Be Taught To Listen.
This presents us with an entirely different approach. Every situation is about teaching, rather than demanding or controlling. In reality, rather than Mom or Dad ‘pushing’ the kids through the day, we must establish a parenting structure that allows for learning—so that children learn to self-manage.
Trying to control the kids is exhausting, frustrating and puts too much responsibility on Mom and Dad. We must set up a parenting ‘structure’ that allows children to learn. In my work with families, we focus on systems that teach children that it is in THEIR interest to listen, when parents ask. Next week, I will discuss specific ways to create this kind of parenting structure in your home. Until then, pull back…and let go of trying to manage every detail. Life will get lighter.
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