I think it's one of the most dreaded statements a parent can hear come out of their child's mouth.
YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!
It sends shivers up your spine, no? I think the reason the shivers appear at the sound of it is because we know....they are right! We can't make our kids do anything they don't want to do.
I mean, we can try. We can threaten them within inches of their life and give them the "mommy glare" and they might do what we ask of them with a chip on their shoulder and a mumble under their breath.
But the more and more I attempt at honing my parenting skills, the more I realize that I just don't want to be that kind of parent. Because, one day, one day not that far from today, the mommy glare will not work. They will be too big for me to put over my knee. They will be mini adults making grown up decisions. Those are the moments, the should I try this alcohol even though I'm underage moments, when they are far from my gaze and all they have is my voice inside their head, their own thoughts and ideas about choosing right and wrong.
I can not make them choose the right thing then...so why should I try to make them do it now?
Are you seeing what I'm getting at here? Every single day, the price tag of the mistakes our kids make gets more expensive. Today we teach them to choose the right thing and share their toys, in a few years they choose the right thing and decide to not share the cigarette with a friend.
Yes, I think it is that simple.
So here are some tips on changing your behavior so you can teach your child that life is full of choices and there are consequences, both good and bad, to follow those choices.
*Always give options.
This has to be the simplest thing you can do for your child. Giving options, even small ones, gives your child a sense of control. Take control away from a human being and you have a robot. Take control away from a toddler and you have a tantrum waiting to happen. I don't want little kid robots. And I've done enough years of tantrums to tell you...you don't want those either. I want responsible human beings with good decision making skills. So teach them, teach them how to make good choices. How? Give options:
"Would you like to go the bathroom now or after you get on your pajamas?"
These little spurts of decision making for little ones, shows them that you know they know how to make choices. As they grow, the options become larger:
Would you like to wake up with an alarm or are you going to just hope you wake up in time for school?
And then....oh God help me...
Would you like to pay for the car insurance all up front or in a monthly fee?
Inevitably, you will ask one of these questions and the answer will be: NEITHER...AND YOU CAN'T MAKE ME.
You are right, I can't make you do anything. So I will give you another choice:
Then you pull out the big guns:
That's fine if you do not want to go to the bathroom before bedtime, but if you wet the bed, you will have to clean the sheets and blankets in the morning...and a new mattress costs about $50 or the equivalent of (insert expensive, favorite toy here). So that's fine...you decide.
Would you like to ride the bus for free or would you like to pay me $3 to pay for the gas to bring you to school? (works great for kids who oversleep or lolly-gag and always miss the bus)
Let me know when you decide about how you are going to pay the insurance, until then, I know you can figure out a way to get to and from all of your school and sports obligations
And then either, A) They will see that you are not giving in and will make a reasonable decision or B) They will keep fighting you.
What do you do? You got it, more options:
If your bed wetter still insists on not going to the bathroom, let them go to bed. Yes, let them. When they have an accident in the morning...DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, give in. Follow through..
"Uh-oh, looks like you wet your bed. Let me know when you get all of the sheets pulled off the bed and I will start the washer for you. Then you can decide how you are going to pay me for the damages to the mattress."
"Looks like you missed the bus. How would you like to pay me for the gas that it will take for me to drive you to school today? Your allowance or your birthday money you have saved?"
"I'd be happy to drive where you need to go if you'd like to pay me for the gas, otherwise, here is the number to the local taxi service, but remember, they only accept cash, so be prepared for that."
Get creative with the consequences, use what will work for your kids, what will motivate them.
But make sure it makes sense for the crime.
Taking away the tv from a 3 year old will not teach them how to follow the bed time routine without having a fit. But making them give up their favorite toy for damage payment and miss Curious George in the morning because they are too busy stripping blankets off their bed every morning might.
Grounding a child for a month for missing the bus repeatedly does not teach them how to get up and get themselves ready on time every day. But making them use their birthday money that they have been saving towards a new video game might.
Allowing your teenager to skip out on the insurance while you cover their butt while saying, "you owe me one" will not teach them responsible vehicle management. But making them tak a cab or (gasp) walk to school and extra curricular activities until they pay might.
Don't argue in between option giving. Give them options clear and straight forward.
If you get upset, walk away, tell your child you will discuss it when you are both calm.
OR, make the bed wetter wear pull-ups, let the middle-schooler get an unexcused absence and support the school's discipline actions for skipping school, don't allow the teenager to drive the family car if he can not afford to pay the car insurance on their own vehicle.
Get tough, be firm, show them that you say what you mean and you mean what you say. When they can not make reasonable decisions, make them for them. Not with anger, not with judgment, in a very simple, matter-of-fact a decision needs to be made so I will make it for you way.
Sure, these options may seem harsh, but life isn't a cake walk. No one makes my husband get up and go to work in the morning. Sure, if someone stood over him, threatening to beat him if he didn't, he'd go. But he doesn't go because he has to. He goes because he wants to. He wants to provide for his family, he wants to pay his bills, he wants to do the right thing.
There are plenty of people in this world who do not get up and go to work because they simply do not not want to. They'd rather mooch off their parents and friends, rack up an unhealthy amount of credit card debt and dig themselves into a hole of self loathing and "Why doesn't anything good ever happen for me". You can imagine that their parents did not teach them cause and affect with real life consequences.
So stop trying to MAKE your child "obey you or else". Start giving option after option after practical option. Make the decisions theirs. Make the problems theirs.
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