“Only mom can put me to bed!”
“Only dad can make my sandwich!”
“I am not eating that for dinner!”
What is more outrageous than kids making these demands?
That parents follow them.
Don’t worry. I’ve been one of them.
We have all had that aha moment when we find ourselves searching in the closet for an elusive shin guard while our child taps their feet impatiently, like an imperious supervisor, disappointed in our performance.
Aren’t we the ones who are supposed to be in charge?
Kids comes by their urge to take control honestly. Stuck with not a lot of power, they test the limits, they grab for control where they can.
But what about us? What is our excuse?
Deep in survival mode, we fall into the parent trance of treating our children’s orders as a necessity. Everyday I hear parents complain about this, somehow not realizing that it’s their problem and they can undo it. It’s not only important for parent’s sanity to flip the order of command, it’s how to be a good parent.
Aside from the problem of having orders barked at you by a pint-sized tyrant, if you shy away from the plain truth that your child isn’t in charge of everything, it’s going to make for some pretty hard landings later in life. Let’s take for instance, tomorrow at school, when Johnny doesn’t want to give him the red crayon just because he really needs it, or in a few years when Princeton doesn’t want to give him a place in the freshman class, even though he just really wants to be there…
OK, that’s a little harsh. While completely supporting your child’s right to preferences, we parents are entrusted with the task of teaching kids that essential truth the Rolling Stones said so eloquently decades ago: “You can’t always get what you want.”
Why do we not want to teach our kids over and over that lesson? Because we don’t like to see our kids upset, disappointed. We don’t want to stress them out.
Isn’t home (where kids are also loved and appreciated) the very best place to learn that lesson? It is through your love and guidance that kids can get to part two of the Rolling Stones lesson: “If you try sometime, you might find, you get what you need.”
The fact is that parents are always in charge and the best way to show is not to rub it in, but rather to redirect your child’s demands and teach them the difference between a preference and a protocol, here are eight ways to get the job going.
Restate the demand Do an edit of your child’s demand, tucking in the idea that their particular need is optional, and deleting the bossy tone: “So, you’d really like it if…” or “You’d prefer if …” or, you can hand the microphone back to your child and say, “Can you try that one again?” or “Can you ask that in a different way?”
Tell them the plan If your child is set on a strictly mommy-only or daddy-only policy for certain activities, let them know that there’s a new plan. Some nights will be mommy nights; some will be daddy. Then once they’re used to the variety, dispense with a plan and make the “staffing” assignments based on who is really available.
Make flexibility a superhero in your home Who you gonna call when you’re stuck? Flexibility! Model this for your child, “I really could use help from my flexibility now” or “I don’t want to change my plans but I have to — flexibility can help me adjust sooner.” Suggest they do the same, “I know you want me to read to you now, let’s get flexibility to help you, and I’ll read to you when I’m done.”
Be a good role model Ask for things respectfully and be flexible at times, too. When you really, really, really don’t want to watch the movie that they do, try compromise first, if it’s really not working, you say—”OK I’m going to use my flexibility tonight.”
Don’t keep trying to win Your child already has too much fairness on the brain. So resist saying you’re not going to “give in” to your child or “let them win.” Explain instead the reason why you do the things that you do and that your goal, when possible, is to make it work best for all.
Let them say “no” to themselves Say yes when you can but when you have to say no—see if your child can guess that answer first and be the one to deliver the unfortunate news so it’s less of a blow, a simple, “What do you think I’m going to say here?” will usually provide a gracious spoiler alert.
Give your child choices within the parameters you set Some things are non-negotiable or a parent’s choice, but other things kids can choose. For example, if your child says, “You have to stay here till I fall asleep!!” You could say, “I’ll stay for a little bit, and then I can check on you in 5 minutes or 10 minutes, which would you like?” It’s a win-win. You aren’t doing things you’re not comfortable with and your child is learning how to make good choices.
Notice and praise your child’s flexibility You are likely reacting strongly to your child’s inflexibility, getting frustrated or angry, which unfortunately reinforces an undesirable behavior. To balance that out, spotlight their flexibility moments, attribute it to their character: “I appreciate that you’re the kind of person who could bend here. That really helps us all.” This way it’s not just a one-time thing, you are putting out the positive self-fulfilling prophecy that they can be flexible.
So, next time you find yourself in that unfortunate moment of taking orders from your child, pause and remember — you must be the boss of you — and really, your child’s future happiness depends on you stepping up and doing that job well.