Parents today are often living hectic, chaotic lives. They are constantly on-call, must be ever-vigilant, and are the ones in charge of the entire complex operation of daily life in their homes and in the worlds their children experience.
Decisions…decisions…decisions…what’s a parent to do?
As a result, parents are expected each day to make more decisions than can feel humanly possible…
What clothes to put on the children? Do they need jackets because it is chilly outside? Do they have to eat certain foods and not eat other foods? What can they play with? What can they touch or not touch? How do they to handle sibling issues? How do they meet the needs of all the family members? And this last one is not a fair expectation, but one that many parents often experience.
Frequently these decisions involve requests from their children, often in the form of demands.
It can start as young as 8 or 9 months—when babies protest not being allowed to touch or hold onto things—to almost desperately wanting to be held by a favored family member, to not wanting to lie quietly while being diapered. As children get older, some of their demands and protests are harder to address, often because their insistence is accompanied by screaming, flailing, tantrums and—once language has evolved—arguing and trying to manipulate parents into giving in and complying with their demands.
Healthy and effective discipline involves the ability for parents to be flexible without feeling overpowered by children. Their decisions need to be made from a position of confidence and the awareness that they, the parents, have the right and responsibility to be the ones in charge.
When children are old enough, they try to argue with parents over something they want or don’t want, or something they want to do or not do.
Instead of feeling they must give all the reasons and convince the child that their decision is reasonable, parents can use a technique highlighted by Barbara Coloroso in Kids Are Worth It. She calls it “Convince me.”
When a child makes a request or even a demand, parents can appear thoughtful and can say things like, “I hear that you want to …watch TV before you do your homework, but yesterday you promised to do your homework after a show and then had a temper tantrum with I told you to turn off the TV; so, you have to convince me that I can be sure you won’t do that again. “
The child may come back with promises, guarantees, bargains.
The parent can calmly say, “I’m not convinced. You need to give me a way to know you will do your homework without a big protest. Come back when you have a plan. Meanwhile, no TV. You have ten minutes and then, if I am not convinced, you will need to finish your homework.”
Suppose the child says, “Here, you can have my … (a favorite toy or device) if I don’t do my homework.” The parent might agree. Or the parent might say, “No, I’m not convinced that is a plan that will work. Do your homework now. Maybe tomorrow you can come up with a different plan that will convince me I can trust you.”
Regardless of the decision, that parent is showing the child that he or she is in charge while also showing a willingness to listen respectfully to requests. The parent gives the child the creative power to convince him or her, but the parent is the one with the ultimate power.
And it is the child who has to do the work to make a case for a request or demand, leaving the parent with one less energy-sapping responsibility. The parent then puts the “burden of proof,” and therefore the work, on the child. This results in an enhanced relationship between parent and child because the process is based on respect.
The process also provides opportunities for children to problem-solve in order to create strong rationales for their requests. The “Convince me” approach to being flexible is a win-win for parents and children!
Invitation to reflect:
- Are there times when you feel caught in a battle with your child in which you need to earn your child’s approval for a decision you have made? How might the “Convince me” approach shift the burden of responsibility?
- To what extent do you feel prepared to take that deep breath and refuse to argue or debate, rather say “convinced me” followed by “I’m not convinced” if the child has not made a sufficient case for a request or demand?
- How might the “Convince me” approach allow you to be more flexible in a strong and healthy way?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network