We all have our challenges as parents. For me, a mom of three boys under 5, my biggest challenge is avoiding what we call, the “no, no, no… OK fine” phenomenon. Your child is nudging you, pestering for that extra piece of cake, one more minute of TV, or another story before bed. You can’t take any more pestering. You give in. We all do it. Even if you think you don’t, you do.
What does that teach your child? That if they bug you enough and avoid listening to you, they will win. Not a great place to put yourself in. You will lose these battles, and they know it. Sure, it is just one battle, but this will lead to many more.
How do you get around this difficult situation? Stay firm. Don’t concede. You can parent more effectively if you are the boss. My goal is for my children to know, with 100% certainty, that if they do X, the outcome is Y, 100% of the time. This is true when they are around me, my husband, our parents, teachers, or any other caregiver. We want them to predict the outcome of their actions 100% of the time. At least we strive for that.
Picture your child’s behavior like a slot machine. They pull the handle expecting an outcome. Usually there is no “win.” But occasionally they get what they want and they do win. If they win more often, they keep pulling the lever and pushing your buttons. If they win less often, they pull less often, not expecting a payout.
How can you increase your child’s ability to listen and not push? Here are some simple tricks of the trade.
1. Mean what you say and say what you mean
There is no point having empty threats with no follow-through. Similarly, if you are unhappy with how your child is behaving, say it. Parenting is not a time to be passive aggressive. Be open, honest and transparent with your children. If you don’t mean what you say, what you say starts to lose meaning.
2. Put guilt, self-doubt and exhaustion aside
You are tired, I know. You are guilty you don’t get as much time with your kids as you want. You doubt your ability to parent sometimes. We have all been there. But these emotions should not direct your parenting; it will only make it harder. Be the kind of parent you want to be.
3. Focus on one thing at a time
Don’t try to intervene in too many issues at once. Pick one thing, like homework completion, getting ready for bed, or mealtime and make that a priority first. Once you get more consistent in setting and enforcing limits in this one setting, move on to the next.
4. Be flexible
Now I don’t mean bend to your child’s every whim. I mean try a new technique. Perhaps time-outs are a very powerful strategy for your child. Perhaps instead they benefit from focusing on rewards or on taking away important things. Every kid has a magic motivator. One of my kids loves treats. For him, when he is annoying, we simply remove his dessert. Another child hate time-outs. For him, time-outs put him back in-line. Figure out your child’s motivator and you will reap rewards.
6. Me time
Parenting is exhausting, that is for sure. Please take care of yourself; take a bath, go to the gym, go out with friends. Take a short break when you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for help. You will be a stronger, more compassionate, patient parent if you are relaxed and centered.
Parenting is challenging, no doubt. Kids will push you at every chance. They are smart, even at a young age, and will try to find any way they can to manipulate. Pushing boundaries is how they grow. Stay firm, consistent, and your child (and you) will thrive.