Bold Parenting: How to Invite Agreement to Get Results
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Think back to your childhood days, as far back as you can remember and up until your teenage years. For the most part, your parents set the rules, controlled when and where you could go, what you should eat, when you had to go to bed, what you wore, and the friends you hung out with. Maybe you had more choice as you got older, but your parents still called the shots.
Do you remember being frustrated about that? Let's say you really wanted cookies before dinner, but your mom wouldn't let you because you'd spoil your dinner. Or you wanted to go to a party with your friends, but you had to finish your chores instead.
You can probably think of a hundred examples when your desires were thwarted by those evil masterminds you lived with.
Remember how it felt to have so little control over your own life and destiny? You couldn't wait until you were grown and could make decisions for yourself and could do what you wanted to do when you wanted to do it. I see that with my own children and feel the frustration boiling up inside of them when I tell them “no” to something. Sometimes that frustration erupts into some very unpleasant behavior.
As adults, we don't encounter that level of control very often.
The most obvious circumstance in which one might be controlled is a boss/employee relationship.The boss can tell you what to do, and unless you want to risk losing your job, you do it — even though you may disagree.
That's a lousy, deflating feeling. People resent a dictatorial or micro-managing boss. Eventually, they lose motivation since there is no sense of engagement or autonomy in the job. As they lose motivation, employees also lose respect for their manager and performance declines.
This same dynamic can apply to parents and their children. When your kids challenge your authority, it is certainly easy to just toss out the old line, “Because I said so!” I've used this line when I'm completely exasperated and tired of being challenged. Kids can be quite persistent and annoying this way.
This tactic may be expedient, but even children know when they are being blown off.
If they talk back or argue, they know they are digging themselves a deeper hole. If they sit and fume, they are imagining you in that hole. There has to be a better way to get kids to respond and comply.
How can parents fulfill their responsibility to create age appropriate boundaries and restrictions for their children without the children feeling a complete lack of control and autonomy? It is a delicate balance, but it's well worth the effort to create that balance. Why? Because you will get better results.
If you want your children to buy in to your rules and decisions, get them involved before you have to make on-the-spot decisions about their behaviors or requests.
Try this very bold parenting idea: invite an agreement with them.
I'm not suggesting that your household become a democracy or that the children make the rules.
What I'm offering is the idea that you decide the boundaries and restrictions in advance. Then invite your kids to help determine how those rules will be enforced and what the consequences should be for infractions.
By carefully explaining your reasoning, listening to their ideas, and giving them some ownership for solutions, you are providing them a sense of autonomy and some control of their life circumstances. As you talk through the issues and come to some conclusions together, you invite an agreement with them. You can even make it official by stating, “Are we all in agreement here?”
Is this strategy fail proof? No. Kids are kids. Whether they are two or sixteen, they will try to weasel their way out of their agreement and argue with you. They will push your buttons and try to engage you in battle.
But, in spite of your kid's best efforts, here's why this strategy will generally get results for you:
You are prepared. By planning in advance your decisions about requests and consequences for missteps, you don't have to make knee-jerk choices. You've already thought it through, so you don't feel cornered. You feel confident.
In a sane moment, your kids agreed. Hey, they may not like it now, but they helped you come up with these rules and agreed to them. Just calmly remind them of that.
Your kids will argue less. They know the rules and agreed to them. But they have to test you. That's what kids do. Just stand firm. Be calm. And don't let them see you waiver. Your consistency will reinforce the need for fewer arguments over time.
Your kids will respect you more. You have included them in the decision making and have been consistent in carrying out the rules. Your children will respect you more for that. They know what to expect from you. Will there be times when you have to resort to “Because I said so”? Yes, but that will be the exception rather than the rule.
If you would like to try to implement this agreement strategy in your family, here are some ideas for you:
- Sit down with your spouse (or if you are a single parent find a trusted friend), and determine the rules you'd like to implement around various situations.
- Remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. Prioritize the issues from most to least important. You don't want to overwhelm your child with too many decisions to discuss at one sitting.
- Call a family meeting. Do this during a calm time — not on the heels of an argument or behavior problem. Depending on your child's age and attention span, choose one to five topics to discuss and make agreements around.
- Explain to your kids what you need from them and why. Try to help them understand the reasons for your rules even though they might disagree. Sometimes they will never accept your reasons, but at least you've given them the courtesy of an explanation. (Once is sufficient!)
- Frame rules in positive language. For example, instead of saying to a younger child, “You must clean your room before you play,” try saying “You room needs cleaning every day so your things stay nice, so let's decide together the best time for you to clean it.”
- Employ the art of negotiation when possible. Be flexible in some areas so your kids feel heard and respected. If the child agrees to clean their room between 4:00 and 5:00, then maybe it doesn't matter if they play outside first as long as they keep their agreement.
- Work to reach an acceptable agreement on the specific issues you discuss so that your rules are respected, and they feel part of the process. Write down these agreed upon rules.
- Get your child's input on consequences. Ask them what they think a fair punishment should be for breaking an agreement. You may have to suggest some ideas, but be sure you choose consequences that you are willing to enforce. If possible, make consequences a natural result of the infraction.
- Write down the consequences next to each agreement. Get your child to sign the agreement if they can, and post the signed agreement somewhere visible.
- Be consistent. Don't undermine all of your work by not following through. If you do, your children will see that they can argue with you and challenge the agreement.
- Have regular meetings. Do this to discuss new agreements and to update previous ones. Make this communication a regular part of your family life. When you integrate your children into decision making, they feel more engaged and connected to the family.
If you want to learn some additional bold strategies for raising successful kids in a less stressful, more practical way, check out The Love and Logic Institute.
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