The complaint I often heard from parents in my parenting workshops over the years often sounded like this ………
“My kids are driving me crazy. I’m trying to raise them as responsible loving children but all I hear from them is sullen ‘Yes Mom. No Mom’ responses to everything I try to teach them. They seem angry and sullen all the time. I can’t get them to mind me. They never do what I tell them. They say all I do is criticize and lecture them. And now my oldest daughter is starting to talk back to me. I ground them or put them in time out, but that only seems to make things worse.”
The problems these parents were experiencing were often the result of their parenting style. They were trying to raise healthy happy children by teaching with words rather than letting the consequences of their children’s choices do the teaching.
I would explain to them that when words are the only tools in your parenting strategy box, what your children hear is exactly what they are telling you…….. criticism when you tell them how they are doing something wrong, and then a lecture when you tell them what they “should” be doing.
They were ignoring the simple reality that when a child’s autonomy; the ability to make their own choices, is compromised—–they are almost certain to become angry and resentful.
How Children Learn
Like all humans, children learn best when they a) are taught to pay attention to the choices they make, and then b) are expected to take full responsibility for the consequences and outcomes of those choices.
Simply state your parental boundaries in a matter of fact tone of voice……and then let those consequences and outcomes do the teaching by always “matter of factly” following through on the age appropriate consequence you affirmed would result if they repeated the inappropriate behavior. Learn to quietly and matter of factly follow through on your consequence.
In other words, never threaten a punishment—and never lecture. Never get angry. And never say I told you this would happen. The moment you become angry or critical, your child will experience you as lecturing. You will immediately become the “bad, lecturing parent” and your child will get angry at “you”——-instead of taking responsibility for the choice “they” made.
In other words, they will walk away blaming “you” for the “stupid” consequence.
So to summarize, never be the “bad” criticizing, lecturing, punishing parent. Simply support their sense of autonomy by quietly helping them connect the outcomes or consequences they experience with the choices that they make.
There are two styles of consequence. There’s the consequence you as a parent matter of factly stated would happen if they repeat the behavior (be very careful not to warn them—–that would be heard as a veiled lecture), and then there are the consequences that the world will impose on the choices they make.
For example, when my children were first learning to drive, the rule in our home was, you will always drive alone for the first six months. No other “friends” are allowed to ride with you. If you violate that rule, you will lose all driving privileges for two months.
My youngest son was about four months into this “family rule” when I passed him driving through our small town with what looked like twelve kids in the car with him. I smiled and waved as he drove by. I could see the panic on his face.
When he arrived home, he walked in the house and put the car keys on the table. He knew I would follow through with the consequence. I looked at him and said quietly, “I know it’s hard to say no to your friends.”
I continued “ That will never happen again. Right?”
He nodded again.
I tossed him the car keys and said conversationally “so how was school today?”
I know. You’re going to say I didn’t follow through with the consequence. You’re right. I didn’t. Here’s why.
My seventeen year old son walked into the house that day fully expecting to surrender the car keys for two months. He had already accepted the consequence of his choice to let friends ride with him. He “knew” from years of me following through on my consequences that I was prepared to follow through on this consequence too.
The lesson I chose to reinforce that day was not about the car, I was quietly reaffirming the connection of his choices with the consequences of those choices. In this example, he knew I didn’t have to put into words the fact that he had just gotten a free pass. He also knew there would not be a second free pass.
Learning to fully accept the consequences of the choices we make in life is a critically important achievement. When your children have learned to embrace that wisdom, you never have to be the “bad” parent.
The World’s Consequences
I once had a parent aggressively ask me “So if your son used drugs and got arrested you would let him go to jail?”
I answered quietly, “Yes I would. But I very much doubt that would ever happen. I have raised him to always take full responsibility for the consequences of his choices; to never blame others for the choices he has made.
I would be sad. And, of course, I would be supportive and love him, but I would respect his autonomy and his right to make his own choices.”