Many parents discover that their influence over their children erodes over time. The more challenging the child, the sooner the weaknesses in parenting begin to unfold. Thus, some are battling with four-year-olds who will become more defiant or strong-willed with time.
As adolescence emerges, even the families with “easy children” discover unsettling struggles. Teenagers refuse to help around the house, do minimal amounts of homework and often show disrespect to mom and dad.
Moreover, too often this is accepted as the new normal. It is not normal. It is predictable, but not normal. Why would we accept this as the new standard for our children in this emerging generation? ‘
But Dr. Cale, it’s not worth the battle’
This comment is critical to appreciate, as many of you have expressed this or thought it. When we believe that the outcomes we want are no longer worth the battle, we give up. We abandon the expectation to have children do more and be more respectful. Rather than battle more, as we are exhausted and spent, we may even start doing their chores for them. We start taking out the garbage and unloading the dishes. We decide in unison that “it’s just the teenage years.”
This is not true. The battles and the consequential giving up are due to a flawed strategy.
Why using force always ends in war at home
As a parent, force is often called upon early on. We were taught to do this. We use forceful language by commanding and demanding that our children listen and respond. It sounds something like this:
• Get your homework out now and get it done.
• Stop fighting with your brother.
• Don’t talk to me that way!
• Get your shoes on now—it’s time to leave.
• Take the garbage out right this minute.
Such an approach often results in tiny battles that begin early in life, snowball, and worsen over time. When the kids are young, we can often rule over children and invoke fear when they resist. We raise our voice, glare and point in threatening ways, and even physically force them to follow our commands.
With this strategy, the home environment degrades over time and becomes an everyday battleground with arguments over the chores and tasks. When children or teens resist our commands (which eventually most do), we lean into the battle with higher levels of intimidation and threaten more loudly and harshly.
We try to force them to listen and use this to an exhausting extent. We get frustrated, thinking that our children should listen to us when we give them commands. In essence, we try to force our parental authority upon them with words and threats, essentially demanding their respect.
We find ourselves using more and more words in an attempt to get real action from our children. There are incessant lectures, discussions, and futile efforts to offer insights. Teenagers either tune us out or fight back. They correct us, explain how wrong we are and educate us on how the world “really works.” Our children twist and turn our words back upon us. They command back to us, as we have commanded them. They scream “NO” just as loudly as we scream “YES.” They resist the harder we push. This is when war emerges at home, with battle upon daily battle. It gets ugly. Very ugly. Moreover, little gets done. Important relationships suffer. In this context now, it’s easy to understand the decision: It’s not worth it when we have walked this path of using force.
Turn to power and turn away from force
When we can see that using force is a losing strategy, this is where we often give up. We do not realize that there is another path—the power path!
Where is this power path hidden? It’s buried in the delusion that words are the foundation for a parenting strategy to get better action from your children. If we abandon this delusion, we are left wordless but not helpless. We just stop talking and stop trying to force compliance with our commands. That’s all.
So now, if we can’t talk, what can we do? What can you do if you stop trying to force behavior?
Power comes from working with the laws of reality
Rule #1: Reality loves action. In the real world, action rules. We want employees who do something, not talk about doing something. You want children who get their homework done, not lie about having no homework. You want a teen who mows the lawn instead of making excuses for why the lawn is ignored.
To get with reality, have an action plan for your family, not a word plan. To get better behavior, require better behavior with an action plan.
Rule #2: Reality uses leverage to get people motivated. No one gets paid before he or she shows up for work. Reality says that when you do your work, then you get the rewards. This formula is the leverage installed in the very infrastructure of our society.
Here’s the problem: Children now expect to get all the rewards and provide no effort. They expect the $900 phone, unlimited data plan, and not work for it. They expect rides with no notice and no hassles for failing grades. They demand the freedom to have infinite screen time, with no consequences. If we conform to this, we teach them about a false reality and set them up for failure.
Instead, require work to be done before your kids enjoy all those goodies you provide. Be more reality-based, and discover your power when you stop talking and require action.
Rule #3: Children are not controlled with words, even the forceful ones. Influence their actions by controlling what they care about. Here lies the magic component of leverage. Stop trying to force better behavior by talking about it.
Instead, control what your kids care about, and use this as leverage to get better behavior. Be patient, as eventually they will get on board because you now touch them with what matters.
Within a week or two, this shift will transform your children. Trust me: They do care about their “stuff.” Shut down their world. Hold out, until the kids demonstrate action. Do this calmly without yelling. Your motto is: Do your work, then you play. It’s simple.
Once they have taken solid action, then release them to their goodies. Each day repeat this process. It’s the beginning of a magical change, as you discover your true power and you abandon using force in your parenting.
Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit TerrificParenting.com.