By Randy Cale, PH.D
When dealing with children who are moving through those pre-adolescent and adolescent years, our tendency is to respond to them in very controlling ways. We speak to them as if we have control over them, but the bottom line is that we don’t control our kids. The more that we end up falling into the trap of trying to control them, the more we end up in and constant struggles.
In many ways, when you embrace this truth, you also open to an enlightened way of parenting that gives you tremendous power to teach your kids critical life lessons.
First, however, let’s review what it sounds like when you’re really trying to control your kids, and it’s not working. It could sound like:
• “Turn off that TV now.”
• “Stop hitting your brother.”
• “Eat those vegetables.”
• “Clean up your room.”
• “Do your homework.”
• “Get off the phone.”
You notice the theme. These parents are responding to their children as if they have control. Do you like to be talked to in this way? Of course not! And neither do your kids. More importantly, it doesn’t reflect reality. We simply don’t control their behavior with our words.
What’s the alternative?
The alternative is to shift your focus from controlling your kids to controlling the environment. This is a critical distinction that shifts your focus from the illusion of having control over your kids (because you don’t) to the reality of what you do control: your home environment.
In fact, you control everything that your kids really care about—whether or not there is a TV or cable in the house, whether the car goes to soccer practice, whether the phone works, and even what food is in the refrigerator.
How does this work on a practical basis?
• Tim doesn’t want to eat what is on his plate. You control whether there is dessert, a snack or relief from his hunger two hours later. Let him know that he doesn’t have to eat, but that there will be no snacks until the next meal, and that he might go hungry. The choice is his, but the control is yours.
• You ask Abby to turn off the TV. She ignores you. You could turn off the TV, and disconnect the cable for the next 24 hours. She chooses how to respond to your request, but you control what she cares about: more TV.
• Caroline remains on the telephone after you’ve asked her to get off. Instead of repeating yourself, take control of your home by unplugging the phone and letting her know that she has no telephone privileges until the next day.
• Joey refuses to do his homework. You have tried to force him in the past, but he gets very obstinate. So, focus on what you do control. Shut down all the toys, TV and video games before Joey gets home. Let him know he can take as long as he wants—but there’s no fun until the homework is done.
See how simple this can be? Instead of trying to control your kids’ actions, you focus on controlling the environment in response to your children’s choices. This enables them to learn from their choices and releases you from trying to force or demand behavior.
Notice how this reflects the reality of life. No one stops us from speeding, but there is a consequence when we do. No one stops us from going over our cell phone minutes, but we pay a price when we do. No one says you can’t show up repeatedly late for work, but when you do, you may find yourself looking for a new job.
Life doesn’t control our actions, we do. And yet, life does give us consequences for our choices. You want the same for your kids at home so that they are prepared for life.
When you really get this approach, you also expand your power as a parent. You can now focus on teaching your kids rather than controlling them, and move away from using endless words to try to manage their behavior. Words will not teach the lessons, consequences will. Be willing to take control of your environment, and create daily opportunities for your kids to learn from their choices. When you stick to this fundamental, many of your normal parenting challenges are eliminated within weeks. n
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.