Hey – you say – the 4th of July is over, yet in your home it seems your children are trying to create their own Independence Day every day – often even erupting in a fireworks display!
Well, actually that’s what raising children is all about – a fine line between supervision and allowing increasing increments of independence to develop. From the first time they let go of your fingers and toddle off across the room to the day they leave for college and beyond, we are helping our children move toward independence.
Okay, parents tell me. They get this independence idea but in the meantime, how do we get them to do what we want them to do – what we need them to do?
Most of the confrontations with our children do happen when we need them to do something, stop doing something, do something else instead, begin something different. It is usually our parental agenda we are “imposing” on them when we know, not surprisingly, our children prefer following their own.
One of my favorite cartoons that I’ve cut out and saved is of a mom, with an armload of clean folded laundry creeping into her young son’s bedroom where he’s playing on the floor. She whispers to him “SShh – put these away in the drawer but try not to wake up the socks”. In the next frame, a smile crosses the boy’s face as he plays into the game and is quietly opening the drawer. The last frame leaves Mom saying, “He’s always so cooperative if only I remember how to ask him”.
You see the playfulness employed here by this cartoon mom. It works. I’ve seen it so many times. I’ve done it so many times. Imagination, playfulness and spontaneity are the tools that offer a win/win situation for parents and children alike.
I know many parents have told me they don’t want to have to be cajoling their child to do what is expected of them. They just want them to “snap to” and follow directions immediately. Well – think about it – even as adults, we respond more willingly and cheerfully when we are asked to do something in a respectful and positive way. Few of us appreciate being ordered to do a task whether at home or at work.
Giving limited choices helps empower a child in making small decisions. Asking a child when it’s time to leave, “Do you remember where we parked our car? Can you help me find it?” puts a new dimension to getting out the door at the grocery store. Sometimes after a visit to The Parenting Place playroom, a child is reluctant to leave. Asking him, “would you turn off the lights for me?” is almost a sure winner in having the child run to the lights and then out the door.
Distraction is very valuable. A race to the car, being timed to see how quickly shoes can get on, a funny song on the way to the dentist, all these things make life with a young child easier and more fun. Giving a heads up to how much longer a child has before he has to end something is always wise. Giving a child real work to do like shucking corn or pulling carrots from the garden will often surprise you how eager the response.
Then, of course, there are those times when expedience is the only way and things just need to happen and happen fast. That’s understandable, but if we find ourselves dealing with most situations like that and having more intense reactions as a result, checking our own schedules and the time we are allowing might be necessary.
It basically comes down to thinking ahead. What’s coming next? With some more intense children, it is literally how do we get from point A to point B harmoniously. And then use your distraction, humor, playfulness, and sometimes a genuine dose of urgency. When not overused, a child will rise to the occasion when you really do need to scurry. And even scurrying can be fun.
All of this becomes intuitive once we begin the habit of tuning in to our children’s needs as well as our own and blending the two. It’s about the connection between both.
Your child and you will both grow together in independence and cooperation as the years go by. Just keep in mind to remember, “how to ask “.