By Gene Castelli
We"ve all been faced (or will be) with the petulant child who refuses to do what we know is the right course. There isn't a parent alive who wasn't part of this conversation, or some form there of:
Child: "I don't want to do my homework now"
Parent: : "Johnny, I want you to do it now"
Child: : "But I'll do it later, after I finish this video game (translation: 2.75 hours)
Parent: : "You'll be too tired later, I want you to do your homework now"
Child: : "I will, but the Simpson's are on and Billy's turn on Xbox is almost over"
Parent: : "What part of "now don't you understand?"
Child: : "OK, in a few minutes"
Eventually, the parent gives in to some degree. This is very common and doesn't make you a bad parent. Kids have been practicing the art of negotiating since before they were born. Think about it. Do you have any say over exactly when your child was born, or were you subjected to the whims of when they would take that ride out the birth canal into the world?
While not the worst thing to give into your child, it is gently reinforcing that they can wear you down on issues if they just try hard enough. I'll be the first to say to pick your battles, but with 4 sons, there were a lot of these conversations going on. So, what to do.
I stumbled on a method that has worked wonders in our house, and it was due to something I learned from my Uncle. He taught me about choices, basically that you always have a choice, no matter what the circumstances. Now, not all choices have good results, but if you have the choice, you have some control over your life.
When faced with one of scenarios above, I tried a new approach with my son. When I get the first hint of rebellion, I immediately go into my "choices offense. I simply phrase my original request with a choice that isn't palatable, for instance:
Child: : I don't want to go to bed.
Me: : No problem, but you need to make a choice. You can stay up late, but then you will be off the computer this weekend.
Child: : That's not fair!
Me: : Nope, but it's your choice to make.
I know that sounds pretty simple, but it is just that - simple. You give them a choice. Of course, the first several hundred times my sons gave me a hard way to go, but eventually, all I had to do was mention the phrase "you have a choice.." and they would invariably do the right thing. The important aspect is that they still were given some control over their lives as opposed to the old fashioned "just do it because I said so!"
It teaches them to think a bit, and to never think life is just one road. Sometimes, they picked the worse choice, and I made sure they lived with it. It teaches them to be responsible for their choices and more importantly, to make their own choices.