Parenting is tough! As the old saying goes, “Children don’t come with instruction manuals.” We want our kids to help out, do their homework, and, heck, just clean up once in a while! As a parent myself, who happens also to be a therapist, I am constantly monitoring what I say to my children and the message that is coming across. Now, don’t get me wrong, I'm human. I make mistakes. Fortunately, for my children and me, children are more resilient and forgiving than we give them credit for. In any case, we all know, I hope, that yelling and screaming just generates more yelling and screaming. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. So, here it goes….here are ten tactics that parents use to get their kids to do things and that don’t work! In the long run, they just end up making your child and you feel bad and do not help your child learn to think and solve problems.
Threatening – “If you don’t clean up your room, I am going to throw all your toys away!” Really, will you? I remember I made that threat one time and realized that I had to get a pretty big garbage bag for this all day chore. You have to be a credible parent, right? But in all seriousness, threats don't work! Worse, they can escalate quickly and turn into a battle of wills between you and your child. All this does is lead to frustration and anger.
Name Calling – “Why don’t you just put your things away? You are so lazy!” When I hear a parent say this, especially to a young child, I just cringe. Think about it from an adult perspective. How motivated do you think you would feel, if your boss told you that you were lazy?
Lecturing – “You know if you don’t use good manners, no one will want to be your friend. If you expect to get anywhere in this world you need to use your manners. You know when I was young, we all said, "please" and "thank you". What is it about today’s generation? They are so entitled.” Blah, blah, blah…….
Blaming/Accusing – “Why did you steal your brother’s money?” Everyone should be given a chance to explain before being accused of something. Make sure you have all of the facts before jumping to conclusions.
Shaming – "Was that a nice thing to do? Hitting your brother like that. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. " “Shaming” can lead to more bad feelings which will do nothing to prevent aggressive behavior, except possibly increase it. A child who doesn't feel good about himself or herself, is a misbehaving child. It's as simple as that!
Making Comparisons – “You should be more like your sister. She gets good grades in school.” Each child is unique, don't compare!
Warning – “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you will get sick.” All this statement does is increase anxiety, without addressing the fact that your child is still not eating vegetables. Here's a tip....process the vegetables until they are really small. Maybe they won't notice. Or offer a reward for trying a new food. Maybe dessert? I'm not trying to make light of this, situation. I have worked with some heavy duty, complex eating problems. These are not simple to address and can really cause a parent to feel anxious. But again, you know your child best. If you haven't tried these options, do so and stick with it for awhile before you determine that it won't work for your child.
Commands – “Do your homework, right now!” This may work given the “fear factor”, but is this really how you think your children should be spoken to? It’s disrespectful and inconsiderate. Do we want our children to blindly follow commands like these? Or worse, take abuse from others? Or do we want our children to grow up expecting others to be considerate and respectful of them? Shouldn't they expect respect and consideration from us as their parents? That's not to say our children should ignore our requests either. Respect and consideration work both ways.
Sarcasm – “Looks like you cleaned your bedroom, just like you said you would. Right?” Sarcasm can be confusing to a child, especially younger children who think in concrete terms. This also sets a tone of contempt in your home. How do you get around that?
Foretelling the Future – “Wait until you have children of your own. I hope you have ten children just like you and you will see what it’s like!” I admit I have said this and it was said to me by my own mother. Yikes!
Well there you have it. We’ve all been guilty of using these tactics. But think about it, have they worked? Maybe our parents said these things to us, and we swore we wouldn’t. But somehow, we lapsed into the same old, familiar patterns of interacting. Here are some other options.
State the Problem – Without using the word “you”, describe what you see. For example, “The dishes are on the counter.”
Provide information, but make it “short and sweet” - By giving information, you are helping your child figure out what needs to be done in order to make good decisions. For example, “the dishes are piling up, the kitchen looks like a mess or ukk! germs are growing.” Beware of turning this into a lecture by giving long explanations or repeating yourself time after time. The purpose of giving information is to help your child know the reasoning behind decisions, in order to make better decisions themselves.
Say it with a word or two and keep to the point! – “The dishes!” or “Joey, your dish in the dishwasher!” You don’t need to coax, persuade or give long lectures or explanations. Just state what is expected and try to use few words. Using a little humor will go a long way, too!
Talk about your feelings. – “I don’t like dirty dishes piling up.” However, state feelings in ways that are not scary or intimidating for your child. You know your child best. If your child is already sensitive to your feelings and may potentially feel bad, then you don’t need to share these to make your request.
Write a note. Sometimes, all children really need is a reminder. Here’s one I had to use at my house, “put the toilet seat down.” I’m sure there are a few wives out there that might need to write this note for their husbands.
Remember, like anything new, using these communication tactics will feel a little uncomfortable at first and will take some time to master. But you will see over time, that interactions will improve between you and your child and will set a tone of respect and cooperation. You will nurture your child’s self-esteem, sense of responsibility, and model respectful communication. And before you know it, the task will become automatic and like the Nike commercial, your child will just do it! Let me know how it goes, by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear!