No, we are not talking about that 80’s sitcom, although that was one of my favorites. Rather, we are talking about your home. Many times, I see parents seeking help because their children just do not seem to listen to them. Now, this issue could have a myriad of root causes but one that occurs all too often is that the child or teen does not listen because they do not have to. The children are in control. They are the boss. I once had a nine-year old calmly tell her parents that she was not going to attend her psychotherapy session…and the parents agreed, lamenting their feeling helpless to change her mind and she never returned to psychotherapy. And this is despite the parents’ belief that their daughter truly needed help for significant anxiety and the fact that the child did participate in sessions when she attended. So, let’s talk about how to address this issue.
First, recognize that you are the parent, you are the boss, you are in charge. Children and teens are still developing, not just physically but cognitively, emotionally, and socially. They need parents to guide them to make the right decisions. This is your job as a parent. I once had a ten-year old express frustration towards his parents’ rules and say that he wished he would be able to do whatever he wanted. However, when I asked him what that would be, he was wise enough to realize that he would probably not make the best choices…he said he would eat too much junk food, play video games for too long, and not go to school regularly. He laughed. Smart kid. Assuming control as a parent is not about being mean, it is about helping your child and guiding them to make positive choices.
Second, although you are the boss, you still need to allow your child some sense of control and choice, as being too strict can lead to just as many negative consequences as being too lenient. Your child or teen needs to learn to make their own decisions and accept responsibility. This becomes even more important during the teen years. So, allow your child choices, within limits. They can choose Cheerios or Wheaties for breakfast…notice that candy was not given as a choice. You can require that they participate in an after school activity yet allow them the choice whether it be dance, band, or soccer.
Third, do not get yourself in a pickle.
– Do not ask, tell. If it is time for bed, do not ask your child if they want to go to bed. Just simply state that it is bedtime. If you ask, you allow them the chance to say no and then what are you going to do.
– Think before you speak. Only set limits which you intend to stick to. It is better to state that you will think about your decision, rather than immediately stating no only to regret it later.
– Stand firm. Once you say no or set a limit, do not back down. If your child repeatedly asks for candy and you say no, only to give in to the repeated whines and cries, your child is learning how to get what they want and I guarantee that the next time they are told no, they will only whine and cry much louder and much longer until you give in.
– Set realistic expectations. Grounding your teenager forever is simply not going to happen, so why even get yourself into that situation.
Finally, set rewards and consequences. As we all know, children and teens have a mind of their own and that is not going to change no matter what you do. If we go back to the beginning, yes that 9-year old could state her desires to not go to psychotherapy and quite possibly her parents would not be able to “make” her go. Yet, they could talk about the reasons for her refusal and they could set consequences such as no television for the evening. Without consequences, there is no reason for her to comply and really, who would not rather sit at home and play video games than go to psychotherapy.
Parenting can be tough when you have to say no to your child or teen, when you have to set limits and when you have to enforce consequences. No one wants to do these things. But it is up to you to guide your child or teen to the best of your ability, while recognizing that no one is perfect and every parent will inevitably fall into the above traps eventually. However, keep trying and remember, if you allow your 5-year old to do whatever they want whenever, how will that look when they are 15?
Oh, and you have my unconditional empathy when your child falls onto the floor in an all out fit in the middle of the store because you would not buy them a toy…because that happens to every parent.
“No” is a complete sentence.” – Anne Lamott