Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"That's not fair!"

"Why won't you listen?!" "You just don't get it!"  "That's not fair!" "Why don't you trust me?" Sound familiar? If you never said something like this to your parents (or at least thought it), chances are you've heard someone else say it more than once. But from a parental perspective, think about it for a minute: what if "it" really is unfair? Are you really listening to your children or do you just think you are? You say you trust them, but do you, really? 

Let's be honest here. Many parents don't consciously think about a strong mutual trust/respect relationship with their children until that relationship is in question. I have posted six possible ideas to encourage such a relationship early on in childhood. They are not by any means the only ideas out there, but they are among the ones I like best. 

Just Say No

Many have heard that the latest trend in good parenting is to never say "no" or "don't" to your child. But no worries. This idea is only referring to the principle of saying "Don't, because I said so" or "No, and don't argue with me"...in other words, saying "no" and leaving it at that with no explanation. It is perfectly okay to say no, but if you refuse to explain why, you're leaving your child to assume whatever he/she wants, which usually isn't something good.

Parent-Child contracts
House rules, car rules, phone rules, playing-with-friends rules...children's lives are regulated by lists of dos and don'ts. We know that rules are necessary to help teach obedience and encourage safety. But instead of the parents exclusively making the rules and laying them down for children to follow, try this: allow the children to participate in the rule/consequence-making process. When the children help create the rules, they (1) feel more inclined to follow them and (2) the "that's not fair" argument doesn't work half as well when they have to face a consequence that they already agreed to. 

There are many ways to do this and ultimately keep the parents in control...I mean, while the kids may want "you have to eat three worms" as a possible consequence, most parents would conclude that while this method may be potentially fun to watch, it has little-to-no teaching value. Some parents will bring up topics like "your bedroom and the play room" and then work with the kids to make the rules and consequences regarding keeping them clean. Others will present the rule followed by a list of pre-approved consequences, and then ask the children to agree on one.

As children require higher levels of trust and responsibility--when they begin to drive, have their first phones, want to be involved in every costly thing possible at school, etc.--this method has wonderful results. Work together to compromise on an acceptable curfew. If they're old enough to have a job, decide with them on how much of their money will be going to extra-curricular interests. If they are part of the decision-making process, they'll be less likely to try pushing the limits. 

If they can see that you trust them enough to help decide what the parameters of their own activities will be, they'll be more likely to retain their trust in you.

Don't start the argument
It's inevitable. Children start arguments with their parents. If it hasn't happened to you yet, the odds are very high that it will. Keep in mind that children pay more attention to what their parents do than the parents realize. How you consistently handle potentially negative situations will set an example for how your children could--and most likely will--handle them in the future.

Most of the time, either high stress or lack of patience is usually the culprit of adults losing their temper. The prevailing idea (and common sense to most, I would hope) is that if the parent loses control, so will the child. Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC, gave some great ideas to help parents keep control of just about any stressing situation. She bases her words on this idea: "When you try to manage your child's behavior instead of your own, what you're saying is 'I'm out of control. I need you to change so that I can feel better'." Two ideas that she gives for keeping yourself under control (followed by my explanations of them) are as follows:
  1. "Expect that your child is going to push your buttons."
    1. This doesn't just apply to small children. Many parents would consider their teens to be experts at this as well. 
      1. Remember that children are learning a lot as they grow and it's normal for them to ask about everything. Because they forget more when they're small, you'll probably have to repeat yourself a lot during this time. That's okay. 
        1. Some will push your buttons because they've discovered that you have them and they want to see how far they can push your limits...or if they can. In these cases, the less you give in emotionally, the more control you'll have.
      2. When it comes to teens, many parents forget that their teen "children" are developing their own unique sense of who they are and what they want to become. Be patient as they discover new things and make some mistakes along the way. Respect them for their growing independence, and they'll respect you.
  2. "Realize what you aren't responsible for."
    1. Kung Fu Panda's Oogway said it best: "Learn to let go of the illusion of control." Mrs. Pincus gives a great example of how this works.
      1. "If you feel responsible for getting your child to listen, think about it--just how are you supposed to do that? How is anyone supposed to get another person to do something; how are we supposed to control what somebody else really does?"
    2. If they're old enough, you are not responsible for whether or not your children clean their rooms or do their laundry; that's their job. You can help them with their homework as they need it, but you're not supposed to do it for them nor are you in control of their attention span. If your children get mad when they can't play with friends because their homework/chores aren't done or their bedrooms aren't clean, then let them. They have the choice to follow house rules or not. Enforcing the rules is your job, but anger/frustration on your part doesn't have to accompany it. Don't let yourself get mad about something that you were never in charge of in the first place. 

Know the answers (or at least where to find them)
There are things happening today that were going on when you were little and that weren't going on when you were little. These things range from proper manners to new technology. You need to be prepared to teach your children about those things. This may mean some research on your part, but it needs to be done. Regardless of the topic, you need to be the ones that your children can comfortably come to with questions and you need to either have the answers or know where to find them. If you don't know the answer to a question, your children will respect you a lot more for honestly saying that you don't know rather than learning later that you said something just to satisfy them. The answers to some questions may be different depending on individual circumstance and family situation, but that's okay. The point is that your children know they can trust you for answers. If your children don't feel like you can answer them, they'll find someone else to do it...and odds are that you won't know who that someone will be.

Don't threaten them
Threats can come in the form of things like "If you do that one more time..." or "Wait until [insert person here] finds out about this." Brenna Hicks, MS LMHC further explains this.
When you talk about so-and-so coming home and finding out: "First, it creates anxiety and fear in the child, especially of the person who you are going to tell about whatever happened. Second, it ignores your responsibility to deal with the issue at hand and passes it to someone else."
Threatening about what you're going to do if "it" happens again "makes them fearful of you. [Also], the threat is usually not something that is feasible to do (we are going home, you are going straight to bed, you don't get dinner. . .etc.) What we say in frustration is not only impractical but easily forgettable."
The main problems in both of these examples are fear and lack of parental credibility. Think about it:
  1. If you're the one at home when a conflict arises and you end up saying "wait until your mother/father finds out," you've shown your child that, for some reason, you're not capable of enforcing the rules on your own. It also
    1. doesn't inspire trust because, in a sense, you're pawning the responsibility off onto someone else.
    2. doesn't teach children how to handle conflict on their own. All it teaches them is to wait for someone else to mediate their problems.
    3. teaches them that they can do what they want until so-and-so comes home because you won't do anything about it.
  2. If it's 5pm and you tell your unruly child that he's going to bed if his behavior continues, how realistic is that actually going to be? Sure, you could send him to his room, but when it's 10pm and he's screaming with hunger because he didn't eat dinner, what are you going to do?

See it from their perspective

As adults (whether we're 21 or 55 years old), we forget how we saw things "when we were their age" because our life experiences have put things into perspective. Therefore, when a child/teen comes to us for help or even just to vent about the latest drama at school, a parent can many-a-time be found downplaying the event/need. They may be heard saying things like "This math's not that hard. Why can't you figure it out?" or "That's really not that big of a deal. Worse things have happened."

Asking for help isn't always easy. Confiding sad/genuinely hurt feelings is not something that one does with everybody. If, as a parent, you downplay what your child is trying to tell you--forgetting how you felt when you were in their shoes--don't be surprised when your child doesn't really talk to you much after a while. You don't have to play into all the drama, but a little sympathy and genuine listening goes a long way. Whatever it is may not be important later in their lives, but it's important now. Just the knowledge that you're there for them makes a difference.

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