Decide What You Will Do
We spend a lot of our time as parents trying to “make” our kids do things. Whether it’s making them hurry up, pick up after themselves, be polite, or make the bed, a lot of focus is put on what we want our kids to do, and how we can get them to do it. The unfortunate reality is, though, that we cannot make anybody – including our kids – do something unless they consent to do it. The best we can do is set up an environment that encourages them to do whatever it is we’d like them to do, or set up an environment that makes not doing the task less desirable than doing it.
This notion can actually be quite freeing. We are no longer on the hook for our kids’ behaviour – that’s their job. We may have been putting a lot of effort into managing and owning responsibility for their behaviour, only to be disappointed and frustrated. So we can now let go of the expectation we have of ourselves that we are somehow – or should be – in control of what our kids do, and that we have failed by losing that control. In this relationship with our kids, the only thing we have guaranteed control over is how we behave.
So it’s important that, instead of spending time worrying about how we’ll get our kids to do what we want them to do, we spend time figuring out what is in our own best interests and then doing that. We can, for example, nag and argue and fight with our kids about picking up their own laundry, and then, perhaps, resort to picking it up ourselves so that it can get washed. Or, we can let our kids know what we will do: we’ll wash only the clothes that are in their hampers, and if something is left on the floor – such as, say, a soccer uniform – it will remain unwashed until it gets put into the hamper and laundry day comes around again. This might mean that someone will have to wear a dirty soccer shirt to a game, but then, that is the choice of the kid. When kids know what the outcomes of two courses of actions will be (clothes in hamper = clothes get washed, or clothes on floor = clothes don’t get washed), they can make an informed decision about how they will behave, and then they are on the hook for the results.
We need to get used to understanding the limits of our own authority. While we can insist that we won’t take our son to his soccer game unless he changes his clothes, we can’t make him care about wearing a clean uniform. That will come organically after he wears a dirty shirt for a number of games in a row and he gets told by the coach or by a teammate that he’s not welcome back until he smells better. Life is about priorities. And while you can’t force your priorities on your kids indefinitely, they will hopefully adopt them as their own once they have the opportunity to fully appreciate why those priorities matter.
By deciding what you will do, letting your kids know in advance what that will be, and then following through, kindly and firmly, you teach your kids a number of important lessons. First of all, you demonstrate that you mean what you say and you will follow through. You also let kids know that they can influence the results through their own choices and behaviour. And they learn that they have the skills to deal with both good and bad results.
All this, and you’ll never have to nag again.