I absolutely love it when people begin to realize that the problems they’re having with a child are of their own making; when they begin to realize, in other words, that the child is not the problem — they are! All this time (however long that might be), they’ve been trying to correct the wrong person — the child — getting nowhere and becoming nothing but frustrated in the process. Instead, they need to correct themselves, and it goes without saying that correcting one’s self is much, much easier than trying to correct someone else.
So, for example, when parents tell me their child will not do what he is told, I ask, “Is it possible that you aren’t really telling — that you are pleading and bribing and bargaining and cajoling and encouraging and then, when all that fails, demanding and threatening and screaming?” I point out that the simple secret to getting a child to do what he is told is to tell. It’s the difference between “You could really help Mommy out by picking up these toys” and “I want you to pick up these toys, right now.” Parents are often amazed to discover that children actually do what they are told (usually, that is, because there is no way to create perfection with imperfect materials).
Another example involves parents who describe their kids as being argumentative. Almost always, the problem is that these parents are explaining themselves. The typical sequence goes as follows: First, a parent makes a decision or issues an instruction; second, the child demands to know the reason behind the parent’s action; third, the parent gives the reason; fourth, the child begins to protest that the reason is not valid or good enough; fifth, the parent begins to justify and defend the reason, and the argument is on! The simple solution, therefore, to the problem of the so-called “argumentative child” is for the parent to stop giving long-winded explanations and to instead begin using the most powerful four words in parenting: Because I said so.
A mom recently shared her story of the liberation those four very “incorrect” words can bring. She writes: “Our oldest has always been our so-called difficult child but I've just recently realized that the difficulties in question are the result of mistakes I’ve been making. As a consequence, I’ve been working hard to correct myself. I’m writing to let you know that it’s already paying off! Last night, for example, my son asked if he could play games on the computer. This has been a problem for us because although we don’t like him playing these games, we’ve allowed him to do so in order to avoid tantrums. Last night, though, I simply said “No, you can’t.” He asked why and I said “Because I said so” in the matter-of-fact way you recommend. He turned around and skipped out of the room! My husband and I just looked at each other, mouths agape. In the past, there would have been an argument and probably a huge blow-up.”
These simple solutions benefit parents, for sure, but they also benefit children. Studies have discovered what common sense will affirm: Obedient children are much, much happier than disobedient children. Put even more concisely: Arguing is no fun for anyone.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions at his website, www.parentguru.com.