Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Some Help For Parents - Mean What You Say

There are a number of principles that apply to parenting in general and pretty much have relevance no matter the child's age. And I can't think of a more important one to start with than this: Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Most parents, including me, have given in to the temptation to use threats that we cannot or will not keep to hopefully get our children to behave. At the store . . . "If you don't quit acting that way I'm going to take your new toy and put it back on the shelf." At home . . . "If you don't quit sassing me and talking that way you're going to be grounded for a month!" In a restaurant . . . "You'd better start eating your food or we're just going to get in the car and go home."

Now in some cases our potential actions are actually doable - we just don't follow through because it's inconvenient or maybe we don't want to upset our kids that much. Other times we've put a consequence out there that actually isn't realistic. What we need to figure out are responses that we can follow through on that are reasonable, well-intentioned and that we are willing to put into place.

But don't miss this key point: we have to send the message early on that we really do mean what we say. The sooner we do this, once a child can actually understand and learn from our actions, the better. Now let me be clear here - you don't have to be a mean tyrant in the process. In fact, if you handle this right, you won't need to get unduly angry and let your emotions boil over nearly as much.

For example, it's very important for your kids to know that their bedtime is a given. It certainly will change as they get older (for a while we added 15 - 30 minutes every year). But when you're starting out, you need to have some watershed moments where they know you're serious. As a result with younger children you may have to endure some extended crying, major push back or other defensive responses. But hold your ground anyway. Yes, you need to be realistic about their perhaps being afraid of the dark or going through some unexpected changes or challenges in the home. There can certainly be acceptable exceptions for special occasions and the like.

But don't deal with those initial conflicts by changing your standards. Use other things like a night light, letting them have music to listen to when they first get into bed, reading to them first, etc. to be understanding about their concerns or fears. Nonetheless, you have to let them know that you do keep your word.

I know that it's also a challenge sometimes to get them to even get to their room but you can use something like a timer to give them a signal that their last fifteen minutes is up. "Ryan, I'm going to set the timer and when it dings you will need to go to your room and get ready for bed."

If they balk at this point then you may have to literally carry them or take their hand and firmly, but lovingly, walk them to their room. Eventually, however, they'll get the message that you are serious and that yes, you mean what you say. And as they mature, you'll likely get less negative responses because they've seen you stand firm before.

And isn't that better than, "But mom, I just need to reach one more level of this game," or "Dad, can't I just watch one more program?" and still have a battle on your hands and a kid who is still up at some late hour? I know it's better and that you will also help your marriage in the process. Mom and dad still need time together, more than ever before, or if you're a single parent you buy yourself some needed time to relax.

If you start now to show your kids you mean what you say, including the good stuff like "I love you," and "we'll play together tonight," you'll reap the fruits of healtier relationships and better actions for years to come. More in the next post.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

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