Children constantly strive for independence from the time they begin walking to the time they move out of the house, but parents continually stifle that quest for freedom. How? By telling their children what they should do, how they should do it, and where that should happen. You’ve probably been there with your child whose homework wasn’t turned in on time. You tell your child he needs to finish homework before play. You tell your child that she should do homework without the TV playing in the background. You tell him that he needs to do his homework in the kitchen so you can watch as he finishes. Translate that into your own work world. One day you’re late for work because of an accident on the expressway. Your boss tells you that you should leave earlier to plan for accidents. She tells you that you need to plan an alternative route before the accident happens so you’re prepared. Or your boss might actually tell you get one of those new Apps for your phone that warns you when you need to leave to avoid the accident. Say what? Who is she to tell me you to live your life? How do you feel about such an overbearing, demanding boss? Your children feel the same way when you constantly tell them what to do.
So, what can you do when you know your child is running astray, but you don’t want to seem like that overbearing boss? Here are some ideas:
- Encourage independence gradually as your children mature. For example, when you read stories to your two-year-old, allow her to turn the pages, rather than turning them for her. Some children like to study the picture on the page before having a parent turn the page for them. When she grows older, she’s more likely to make wise decisions if she was allowed to make little decisions when she was young.
- With parenting, less is sometimes more. In other words, the less you do for your children, the more they’ll do for themselves. When my girls were ten, I began “allowing” them to do their own laundry! After a while, they began to see these little chores as rites of passage to mature independence.
- Teach your children skills that will help them cope with emergencies rather than overprotecting them. For years, I had a plaque on my desk that read: Prepare your child for the road rather than preparing the road for the child. Help your child to understand that life’s road is seldom smooth and sometimes very bumpy. When you ride in your car, present hypothetical scenarios and discuss how your teen will react. You might even work together one rainy day to develop scenario cards that you can keep in the car. Studies have proven that the forward motion of the car actually facilitates conversation with teenagers who are reluctant to share their thoughts.
- Show your child how to effectively manage his time so he can independently choose to do homework before playing. In other words, practice what you preach. If you have a deadline looming, explain that you can play ball after you finish the report. Give your child a realistic time to consider – an hour? Two hours? That way, he won’t come in every fifteen minutes to disturb your concentration, which will further delay your time with him.
- Offer guided choices. If I had to list the number one way to get kids to cooperate and listen, it would be this suggestion. Guided choices provide alternatives that you can both live with. They are not ultimatums. For example, you might say to your six-year-old, “It’s bed time. Do you want a story first or do you want to brush your teeth first?” Either way, you get what you want – a child in bed by 8:00, but the child gets independence through your guided choices. Guided choices require two things: A given circumstance (it’s bed time) and creativity with the choices (book or teeth first?). Now here’s an example of an ultimatum: “Do you want to go to bed immediately or forget about going to the movies tomorrow? You choose.” Where’s the choice? There is none. The child wants to go to the movies so he begrudgingly complies with the demand. See the difference?
A child’s job description includes testing parents. Expect that the above suggestions will work most of the time. However, there will be times when absolutely nothing works. That’s when you need to put on your prison guard helmet and be firm about what needs to happen, without choices, and without fun. However, that should occur only 5% of your time with your children. The other 95% should involve a happy relationship as they achieve mature independence.
Renee Heiss is the author of Helping Kids Help, which helps childen gain independence by helping others in need. To learn more about the author, go to her website: www.reneeheiss.com