By Sharla Erbe, LMSW, IMH-E-III
Does it seem like you are always battling your kids? No matter what simple request you ask them, like, “Go put on your shoes, we’re leaving for the park,” soon becomes an argument. What’s going on here? Why do our children challenge us? How do we stay firm in our requests without losing our cool, becoming argumentative, resentful, or punitive? Not an easy task, right?
The first thing is to understand that all kids will try and manipulate adults to get what they want, not because they are “bad” but because it is a necessary part of their normal development. If children always did exactly what others, including their peers, asked them to do, there would be problems. Can you imagine what predicaments and bad choices they would make? The first time another child said, “I dare you to swallow a Tide Pod”, and they did it without questioning or hesitation, this could be disastrous.
So the next time your child annoys you by asking, “Why do I have to…..” or yells, “No! I don’t want to!” take a deep breath. Take your own self-care moment. Know that children challenge our requests in order to grow and figure out for themselves to come to their own conclusions. For example, “If I continue to argue with my parents, I may lose my chance at getting that new game I want.”
Now, back to parents listening to themselves…yes, when kids grumble back at us adults, we get to feel annoyed, and that is normal too. If possible, take mini “timeout” for yourself. Do something for yourself that you enjoy. If not feasible at the time, postpone it until later. Call a friend, or think of a pleasant calming place that soothes you. Do a check-in with yourself. Pay attention to the feelings that were triggered during your interaction with your child. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now in this moment?” Be aware that your child will try and derail any attempts on your part to change the way you typically handle these exchanges. Practicing new ways takes time for you and your child. Remember, a child’s goal is to get what they want and protests are a normal way to try this. A parent’s goal is to do the best to guide their child by setting clear requests and effectively following through with age-appropriate consequences when they do make mistakes. Here are some tips
1. Avoid the power struggle when possible. Give the child the choice; it helps them to feel empowered.
Child: “No, I don’t want to pick up my backpack.
Parent: “When would you like to pick it up? You can do it now or in 15 minutes before dinner”.
Child: “I don’t want to wear my coat.”
Parent: “It’s cold outside today so you need to wear something warm. Do you want to wear your sweatshirt or your blue coat? You pick and surprise me.”
2. Use pre-talks as often as possible. What is a pre-talk? Inform your child in advance of their schedule and expectations.
Parent: “We are going to the park at 3:00 and we will need to leave at 5:00 so we can get dinner. I’ll remind you at 4:45 when it is time to leave.” This helps the child to know what to expect.
In closing, give your child and yourself permission to make mistakes along the way, and remember to praise, praise, praise the positive behaviors! If your child always goes to the extremes, tantrums about everything when they are well past the “terrible twos” and this seems out of the ordinary, trust your instincts. You may want to seek professional help.