What’s A Parent to Do?
By Edie Jones
Friendly and Firm: do these sound like two opposite concepts? In parenting, the term refers to the manner (friendly) in which we stay firm in what we want, expect or require of our children. Adults know they respond more positively when asked to do something in a respectful, pleasant manner instead of by a command or a demand.Approaching kids in the same manner can have many positive benefits.
Giving choices is one of the ways we show respect while also teaching decision-making skills. When you can, offer a couple of choices, keeping in mind that there is always a third choice. If they are unable to choose, Mom or Dad will choose. If it’s taking too long, or they’re unable to decide, it’s time to step in and be firm.
The younger your child, the harder it may be for them to make a choice. Toddlers may understand there are two choices, however, they may not be able to choose between one or the other.
A story I share in my book Raising Kids With Love, Honor and Respect; Recipes for Success tells how a two-year-old was grocery shopping with his mom and requested a Popsicle. She thought that would be fine and pushed the cart over to the case where he could see the array of choices. Looking and looking he became more and more agitated trying to decide. Mom tried to help by making suggestions, “How about a purple, yellow, or an orange one?” Nothing was acceptable. Finally, feeling enough time had gone by, she pushed away from the case saying, “It’s just too hard to decide today. Maybe tomorrow.” Expecting a melt down she was caught off guard when he calmed down and relaxed. He just wasn’t able to choose when there were that many choices. A better way to have approached the request might have been, “Would you like a green one?” before they got to the display case.
If rules are involved, present only the ones that are needed, revising them as your child matures. Keep in mind they don’t have to be the same for all of the children in your family, letting age and development guide you as to what’s needed. A way to help pre-school and elementary age children understand there may be exceptions to a rule, is to play the “never, sometimes, always” game. Let’s say you want to establish certain house rules (i.e. We don’t eat in the living room. Toys are put away when play is finished. Homework is finished before TV, etc.) Write each of these on a separate piece of paper and place them in a paper bag. In turn, have each of your kids draw one out, read it aloud and say whether it is a “never,” “sometime” or “always” rule. It may be that eating in the living room is a “sometime” rule, since popcorn is allowed while watching a movie on Saturday night. Or, homework finished before TV applies Monday through Thursday but not Friday through Sunday. “No jumping on the furniture” could easily be a “never” rule where “showing respect” is an “always” rule. Allow your kids to come up with contributions. You’ll probably be surprised as to what they throw into the mix.
I’m not saying to let your kids “rule the roost.” It’s important to know what limits are needed and important to enforce them. If bedtime is at 8 use words like, “What time is bedtime?” “That’s right, and what time is it right now?” This allows the clock to be the “boss” and gives you the opportunity to follow up with, “I know. I’d love to keep playing, too. We’ll just have to finish the game tomorrow. Leave it set up and we’ll be sure we have time.” Then, move everyone toward your pre-established bedtime routine, following the directions of the clock.
When staying firm, a phrase that’s helpful for parents to remember is to “stay matter of fact.” Avoid the emotional roller coaster that keeps kids challenging you. Think of how much power they have when they “push your buttons” or cause you to behave in ways you regret. A negative parent/child cycle (They behave, you respond. You behave, they respond. And on it goes.) can be cut short if we just remember to stick to the facts of the situation and avoid the emotions that set things off.
Keeping rules simple and having only the ones that are needed will help create a friendly and firm parent. Presenting the limits needed in a positive, clear manner and striving for consistency will do much to help your children behave as you desire and expect.