Allow me to share some of the parenting observations I have accumulated over the past decade.
Parents are usually concerned primarily with their children’s obedience and respect.
How do I get them to behave?
Why don’t they respect me?
These are two of the most common and central issues I see parents trying to manage. And from this point, a very common relationship dynamic occurs. Parents tend to use their words to manage behavior and their consequences to build respect. Perhaps this cycle seems familiar…
Ask the child to do something. Tell the child to do something. Ask them why they didn’t do it. Yell. Complain. Argue. Nag. Threaten. Beg. Guilt trip. Etc. Then, after there is so many hurt feelings and regrets for hurtful things said, you feel guilty and let them off easy, mend fences with a treat or don’t even follow through with a consequence.
“What can I say or do to get through that thick skull of theirs and make them listen?” “Why do I have to yell at them before they will obey?”
Wouldn’t it be great if there was some magic phrase to get the light bulb to turn on and your child to respond, “Oh! You’re right mom. You’re just trying to do what is best for me. I’m sorry I didn’t get it and you really do love me. I’ll cooperate and everything will be easier from now on.” If only.
Ideally, it should be as simple as telling them something and them obeying. In a well running relationship, that is how most things work. But when it doesn’t work that way, we think we need to step it up and figure out the magic words to get cooperation. And when you try harder and harder to use your words to get obedience, you tend to do more and more damage in the process. It is like trying to get a seed to grow by digging it up and squeezing it. Sure, you might get a reaction, but that is not going to thrive.
And then, when you try to repair the relationship or make sure the child still likes you, you decide to give them things, not to punish them or to cut that 2 week grounding back to 2 days. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I don’t want us to fight. Let’s go to the mall and look at that new Iphone you wanted.” I see a lot of parents that really struggle to apply consequences when they feel guilty.
So, that is the common dynamic. Use words to try to manage behavior and consequences to manage relationship/respect. But consider what that would look like if you had boss that did that…
Imagine a bad boss who comes in and just complains about all the things that aren’t done right. “Why is this so sloppy?” “You need an attitude adjustment.” “You guys need to work harder.” “What’s your problem?”
People tend to protect their ego from criticism by discrediting the source of the criticism.
That means, if someone is yelling at you, there is a part of you trying to knock them down a few pegs so their criticism doesn’t hurt as much. You may be thinking about that nagging boss, “Well, you’re never here. You don’t know how hard we work. I’ve seen all the stuff you do wrong. How dare you criticize me.” So, when people use their words excessively to control behavior, it tends to breed disrespect and hurts relationships.
Now, if that same bad boss never actually punishes anyone or enforces rules, but rather tries to enact casual Fridays and bring treats to make the employees like them, does that actually work? No. You just learn the boss won’t really do anything and you simply take advantage of their gifts without developing any respect.
Now, let’s flip the script. Imagine a good boss who uses their words to build relationships and consequences to deal with behavior.
This boss comes in and encourages you and points out what you do right. “Hey, I noticed how you put up with that angry customer with grace and tact.” “I know I can always count on you.” “You have such a great attitude, we’re lucky to have you.” If a boss was sincerely encouraging and really appreciated you, would you be more willing to go the extra mile when they said, “Hey, can you come in on Saturday? I know it’s no fun, but I need someone I can trust to do this for me.”
And if that same boss had to address a problem and said, “I do need to mention the issue of getting to work late. That’s your responsibility and if you are signed up to open, we will have to start docking your pay for being late.” If you were late again and got your pay docked, would you really be that mad at the boss? No, they told you what would happen and they followed through. Now that you know they are serious, maybe you’ll try harder next time.
Which boss would would you respect more? Which boss would you cooperate with more?
Let me tell you that after visiting with easily over 100 kids in my experience, they almost never complain about punishments. Usually they know what they did. What kids say over and over again is, “Why do they have to yell at me?” Truth is, any open mindedness to change usually shuts off when the volume starts to go up. The yelling, the lectures, the nagging and the criticism usually do not convey any new information to the child, but it does affect them. They hate it. Sometimes they try to act like it doesn’t bother them, but it does. And if we’re being honest, this is why parents use it…because it gets a reaction. Punishments often seem ineffective, but you can find a hot button topic to get a reaction. And this feels like an accomplishment. But it is not accomplishing what you want. Sure, they might obey just to shut you up, but that wins the battle and loses the war.
Do you want to get them to pick up the socks off the floor today even if it means they don’t tell you about their depression tomorrow?
What did you win if they turned down the music only to stew on how you don’t care that they had a horrible day and needed something to cope?
And if your make them so miserable that they make good decisions while you are around, will they still do those things when they are on their own?
I used the seed analogy earlier. Using words to control behavior is like squeezing a seed. It gets an immediate reaction that does not thrive. Consequences on the other hand are like pouring the water on a seed that is buried. Just because it doesn’t seem to make a difference now does not mean that it is not working. Create an environment that encourages growth. Create consequences that make good decisions the better option and give your child time to figure that out.
How many times have you made the same bad decision over and over and dealt with the consequences before you finally decided it was not worth it and made a change? I think most people who consider that question honestly will realize that sometimes it takes many times before we learn our lesson, but when we do, it is real change. That has to be the attitude with consequences. Don’t expect immediate results, just create situations that make good decisions worthwhile and give the child time to accept that change. You don’t have to win today.
So, which kind of parent do you want to be?