When parents approach me regarding difficulties with their child/ children, I listen to their stories of what’s going on. Stories about what the child does (yells, demands, whines, ignores, defies, hurts) and what they don’t do (don’t help when asked, don’t get ready for bed, don’t do their chores). The parents are presenting the idea to me that their child is the problem – that they are difficult and non-compliant and often parents believe that there’s something ‘wrong’ with the child.
I then ask: “How do you manage these situations?” “What do you do/ say?”
This is where it gets interesting…..
I’ll hear a range of responses from ignoring to yelling, to smacking, to punishing them.
I tell them a story to illustrate the fact that:
Change comes from you! Children respond to the environment they are in and utilise the patterns they’ve learnt from you…..
“When you first became a parent, and held that precious baby in your arms, it was like God/ Destiny/ The Universe (whichever you believe in) leant down and placed a crown on your head… a Parental Crown. And the message told you that: ‘You are a parent now, your job is to love and protect this child and to keep it safe’. And generally that’s what we do – we feed the baby, clothe it, keep it away from danger and love it.
When that baby starts crawling towards the power point we move him/her away and distract them because we want to keep them safe. We hold our 2yrs old’s hand when we cross the road. We take our Parental Crown seriously!
And then one day we are at the supermarket with our two and half year old and the following conversation ensues:
Child: Can I have for a lolly? (or an ice-cream or toy).
Parent: ‘No honey not now.’
Child: ‘I want one.’
Parent: ‘Mummy said No’
Child: ‘But I want one ‘– voice elevated
Parent: ‘No, not today!’ – voice raised
This continues for a while with voices and tempers continuing to rise. At some stage, what usually happens is that the parent feels they are being watched by other shoppers and/ or they can’t stand the child’s whining and begging anymore, and will often say something like: “Here, have it and stop carrying on’.
At that moment, the parent has taken the Parental Crown off their head and given it to their child, because they’ve passed the parent decision making onto a 2.5yr old child.
In that moment the child has learnt:
Whining pays off;
You get what you want if you carry on long enough;
Even though I didn’t like Mum/ Dad growling I like what I got at the end; and
This is how I’m supposed to operate to get what I want.”
I’m sure that most parents didn’t mean this to be the outcome!
So how do we get the Parental Crown back from our 3yr/ 5yr/ 8 yr old who has worn it very comfortably for a while now?
- Firstly, if you have very young children… don’t give it to them in the first place!
- Establish reasonable ‘rules’ within your family. Young children don’t know what’s suitable to watch on TV, or why they need to go to bed at a certain time, or that some foods aren’t good for them – that’s your job as a parent.
- Set boundaries around the rules and enforce them eg if you have a rule that we don’t throw things in the house then if they do, you need to respond. If you have a rule about treating people kindly, and they don’t, then you need to respond. Note that’s ‘respond’ not ‘react’!
- It’s my belief that there are two main skills you need as a parent – to be calm and consistent. The more calm you stay, the more likely the child is to listen – the alternative is to yell, which is when they will also yell! And consistency is vital – be consistent with bedtime routines, with brushing their teeth before bed, with taking action when children are mean – the action may be a conversation, time out, fixing the problem, or missing out on something.
We help our children the MOST when we are calm and consistent.
If you are taking the Parental Crown off the child, be aware there will be resistance – they quite liked telling you when they would go to bed or that they can do something – be prepared that in the short term it might be hard…. (they might whine, nag, beg or try and ‘butter you up’!) but go for the gold at the end…. You being a parent, raising a child who is allowed to be a child guided by his/her parents!
Stand tall and wear your Parental Crown!