I have the good fortune of being married to a psychologist who has been practicing for the last 20 years. He deals mostly with forensic work—clients that have been through the judiciary system.
Often this involves working with teenagers that have made undesirable choices in their life which have landed them in hot water. Many times, their parents will bring the child in and ask my husband, “How do we fix him?” In these situations, my husband will want to reply that what he really needed to do was fix the parent ten years ago, not the child.
How we parent can have a tremendous influence on how our children behave. That’s not to say that children won’t make poor choices on their own, even with great parenting, but too frequently there is a pattern in place that leads to some of these undesirable behaviors. One of these is a pattern of engaging in a battle of wills with the child. The following are some simple steps parents can take to avoid falling into this parenting trap.
- THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK: When your child comes to you with a request take a second to think through your response. Sometimes we are too quick to give an answer and that can lead to us wanting or needing to change our minds down the road. This is a surefire path to a battle of wills. No child likes being told “yes” first and then having that “yes” switched to a “no.” If you aren’t prepared to stick with your answer you are better off saying “I’m not sure about that and I’ll get back to you.”
- SAY YES MORE THAN YOU SAY NO: As children grow they are learning to assert their independence. It’s got to be a little frustrating to feel like you don’t have much say in your decisions and as parents we need to foster this quest for independence while setting safe limits. I have found that if I can find more ways to say “yes” vs. “no” this limits the amount of arguing that takes place. For instance, when my child asks to have a sleepover (something we don’t allow) I will say that I would be happy to pick them up late from the slumber party and bring them back first thing in the morning. When my six year old wanted ice cream for dinner, I told him that it sounded like a great idea for an after dinner treat.
- HONOR YOUR CHILD’S PERSONALITY: We learned pretty quick that one of our boys did not like things sprung on him last minute. This could be anything from chores, to bedtime to a family outing. He simply needed time to mentally prepare for what was being asked of him. After a few battles, we recognized that as long as we were able to give him some advanced warning he was happy to comply. Another son is completely the opposite. If we ask him to do something too far in advance, he forgets and we get frustrated. We’ve learned it works better to give him short lists of to-dos with little advanced notice. What works for one child may not work for another. As you honor their individual style you will find what will lead to success.
- TAKE A STEP BACK: There isn’t one parent out there that hasn’t got into a battle of wills with at least one of their children. It’s bound to happen. Sometimes as adults we become too invested in not only being “right” but in our children seeing that we are right. There will be times when it won’t matter what you do or say, your child will not agree with your stance. That’s ok. They don’t need to. Chances are that as they mature they will see why you said or did the things you did, but that perspective may be years away. As a parent, it is your job to set limits and sometimes those limits are unpopular. If you can’t let go of the idea that your child needs to understand your position right in the moment, you’re setting yourself up for a battle of wills, and one you are not likely to win.
Changing our children’s behaviors usually means changing our own parenting behaviors. With some introspection, a little tweaking and an increase in thoughtfulness we can put a stop to those dreaded battle of wills.
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QUESTION: How do you avoid battles of will with your children? Share your stories and ideas in the comments below!