Dear Dr Justin,
"My children don’t do anything they’re told. I’ve tried everything. I withdraw privileges and use time out and even smacking them won’t work with them. I’m tired of yelling. Nothing works no matter what I do to them. I’m seriously over it. I have a girl whose 3, a boy whose 8, and a girl who is 11."
A farmer was out the front of his farmhouse doing chores one morning when a big 4WD pulled up in the driveway. A man in a uniform climbed out of the vehicle, walked up to the farmer, and stated, “I’m here to inspect your farm for any illegally grown drugs.”
The farmer responded, “Fine. But do not go into that paddock over there.” He pointed behind the man to a beautiful paddock.
The officer replied, “Mate, I don’t think you understand. I’m here to inspect your farm and I have the authority of the State Government – the Premier – behind me.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a badge. “Do you see this badge? It means I can go onto any land I want! Have I made myself clear, old man?”
The farmer apologised and resumed his chores. The man walked away to begin his inspections. A short while later the farmer heard a scream. He looked in the direction of the paddock he had pointed out as the one the officer should not enter. Sure enough, the officer was the one who had made the noise. He was racing across the paddock as fast as he could, a raging bull in hot pursuit – and gaining fast.
Seeing the imminent danger the officer was in, the farmer stepped onto the fence that surrounded the paddock and called in a loud voice to the officer, “Your badge! Show him your badge!”
As parents we do a lot of badge-showing. We sometimes think that just because we are the parents, we can do or say whatever we want and our children should just follow our instructions. But often, our children are a little like that bull. They don’t want to be told what to do, and showing them our badge – our authority – makes zero difference.
We say things like, “Because I’m the parent. That’s why.” We make demands that they do this or don’t do that (like going into the paddock). They don’t seem too concerned about our requests. So we get mad. We start throwing our power around.
We show our authority by using our power to do things to our children. When they don’t listen, we get mad, yell, threaten, remove privileges, ground, and all-too-often some parents use physical force and violence. But doing things to our children by punishing (or scaring) them ignores the reasons for their challenging behaviour. It ruptures our relationships with them. And it actually reduces the likelihood that they’ll listen to us when we try to teach them.
It seems that the more we rely on our authority to “make” our children do things, the less authority we really have. Sure, we have it while the kids are under surveillance, but once we turn our back, our authority is gone.
Ironically, it’s when we stop throwing our authority around and focus instead on building our relationship with our children that they begin to feel safe. We become trustworthy. And our influence grows.
So how do we do it?
First, we’ve got to get our relationships right. This means less correction and direction. It means more listening, understanding, and working on things together.
Second, we explain what we want our kids to do and why. We avoid yelling, and instead we stay calm, kind, and firm.
Third, we explore the reasons why they may not want to comply. When we see the world through their eyes, we improve relationships.
Fourth, we empower ourselves and our kids to work together on solutions that suit everyone. Sometimes that can’t happen and it’s our job to be the parent in those circumstances. But to the extent that it’s possible, we work through those steps above and stay flexible and understanding.
Fifth, we make it fun. When I watch parents interact with their kids I feel so sorry for EVERYONE because no one’s having fun! But happy families know how to enjoy themselves together.
Doing nasty stuff to your kids (by showing them your badge) is only going to make you feel lousy, hurt your relationships, and reduce your influence with your children. Instead, give them love. Give them limits. And give them laughter. It will change your family.
Learn how to effectively give love and limits to your kids (especially when they challenge you!) in the eBooks What Your Child Needs From You: Creating a connected family and Time out is NOT your only option. Say goodbye to nagging, shouting, pleading, threatening, and demanding, and hello to a more harmonious family life.