Achieving Parenting Goals with Flexibility

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“No, that’s not right! There is a correct way to load the dishwasher. All of the plates have to be facing the same way and the glasses need to go from smallest to largest,” said the mother to her son.

Her son looked exasperated and finally said, “I am not loading the dishes anymore and you can’t make me do it!”

This comment started a fight that escalated between the mother and her son. In the meantime, the dishes were never loaded into the dishwasher and the dishes were never cleaned. This incident also set up future confrontations over loading the dishwasher between the mother and her son.

The battle between parents and their children regarding chores and obeying commands occurs frequently. Most parents expect that children will refuse to do chores on occasion. When that occurs, parents must punish the children until they give in. This is a classic approach to parenting.

However, there is a different way to parent that can prevent many of these confrontations from the start. Parents often do not find this approach unless they are confronted with children who are extremely oppositional and they have run out of all other options.

This approach has parents set goals they want their children to achieve. They then work with their children in deciding how to achieve that goal.

In the above situation, the goal is for the dishes to get clean. This could include using the dishwasher or washing them by hand. The mother should relay that goal to her son and then ask, “How do you think the dishes should get clean?”

This approach to parenting will feel odd at first since the parents are giving up a little of their power in order to gain cooperation from their children in completing the task. This approach creates buy-in on the part of the children to achieve the parent’s goal. When children buy-in to the goal it makes it more likely they will follow through on the task and complain less about it.

This does not mean that children can suggest anything and the parents blindly agree. If the boy responded with the suggestion of having the family dog lick all of the plates clean, his parents can reject that idea and put forth other alternatives.

The important part of this approach is for parents to involve their children in decisions that have a direct impact on their lives. Too often children feel like their opinions don’t matter in the family. When this happens, children are only left with the option of refusing to do a chore or command to feel like they are being heard.

Sometime in the next week, parents should sit down with their children and try this approach. Select a couple of chores that have been sources of conflict in the past and ask your children what they would recommend in order to get the goal completed. You might be surprised as to what they come up with and it will likely make your life easier down the road.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on September 14, 2014.

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