We’ve all been there. You tell your kids to clean your room, and you can actually see their expressions glaze over. Remind Jacob to do his science homework, he rolls his eyes. Tell Emma to set the table, and the whining starts before you can hand her the forks.
You’re not alone if you find yourself wondering when your kids signed up for Testing Patience 101. But these misbehaviors aren’t something they picked up at school. Surprisingly, it’s our own habit of bossing our kids around that sometimes brings out frustrating actions on their part. After all, how would we respond if we had someone following us around and telling us what to do all the time?
While there are times when our kids just need to be told what to do, there is also a direct link between the amount of ordering, directing, or correcting we do and the amount of misbehavior we get. From toddler to teen, children are hard-wired with a need for independence. As a result, our well-intentioned reminders and instructions garner natural pushback as our kids attempt to retain their autonomy. The result is an unwanted power struggle between parent and child.
So what is the alternative? After all, the homework has to get done, and our kids need to learn to help out around the house.
The five strategies below are designed to help eliminate the complaining and jumpstart cooperation.
Create routines for tasks that occur daily or weekly. Then stick to them. If Jacob knows that his homework must be done each night before he can play video games or watch his favorite TV show, you won’t need to give him a daily reminder.
Change your phrase by asking questions instead of giving directions. Replace “don’t forget to start your book report!” with “which book did you choose for your report?”
Making the switch to a question prompts your child to think through her answer, and it also shows that you trust in her to have taken the action on her own.
If she hasn’t actually started yet, it also gives her the opportunity to quickly develop a plan. Regardless of her response, you achieve the peace of mind that she is completing her report without robbing her of her independence.
Consider cooperation instead of directing, reminding, or correcting. Rather than simply telling Emma to set the table – which would be about as productive as asking the table to set itself – include her in the decision process by suggesting the action and explaining why it would be helpful.
Try something such as “Emma, dinner is taking longer than expected to make. It would be a big help if you could set the table.”
While this strategy might not lead to instant cooperation on their part, your kids will soon begin responding positively as you change from commands to language that supports their need for autonomy.
Clarify the consequences of your child not completing an assigned chore or task. This acknowledges that you can’t force your kids to do something, but that you can control how you respond to their action or lack thereof.
Begin by deciding and explaining to them what you as the parent are going to do. For example, tell your children that you will do laundry on Mondays. If their clothes aren’t in the hamper, they will have to either wash the clothes themselves or wait for the next laundry day. If Monday comes and Ava’s smelly gym clothes are in her backpack instead of the hamper, you can bet that once she discovers her mistake just before gym glass, she’ll get it right next time.
Choose to smile as you incorporate these techniques. Even if you have to fake it, smiling changes communication completely: smiling while talking leads to calmer tone of voice and decreases the likelihood your statement will be received as a command.
Need help remembering to plaster on a grin? Add a smiley face note to your mirror, the fridge, your dashboard – anywhere you’re likely to face a power struggle. You’ll be surprised how quickly this little technique improves cooperation within your family!
Changing our own behavior is the most important step in putting an end to our kids’ misbehavior. By following these five strategies, you will see fewer power struggles in your home – and that means less eye rolling, whining, and tantrums. Instead, you’ll find more cooperative kids who might even surprise you by lending a hand without being asked!
Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. For easy to implement strategies for happier families and well-behaved kids, follow Positive Parenting Solutions on Facebook