If you want your kids to trust you, then you have to be careful about contradicting yourself.
Of course no responsible parent wants to teach their kids that lying is acceptable, so as much as I want to tell the kids we can’t go to Mc Donald’s because it’s closed, I have to be honest. I want my kids to know that they can trust me to keep my word; not just because honesty is important in any relationship, but because my husband and I are banking our effectiveness as parents on our credibility. Credibility is the difference between kids that listen to their parents at a high rate and kids that ignore their parents at a high rate. The act of not flat-out-lying-to-your-cherub-face takes fancy footwork sometimes, but what I really have to watch out for in my own behavior is contradicting myself.
Plans change and miscommunication happens, and sometimes what the kids hear isn’t exactly what was said:
10 year old: (runs into the house from the backyard) Tia, can you take us to the park?
Aunt: Not right now. I have a lot of studying to do.
10 year old: (runs back outside to report to his cousins) She said she’ll take us after she studies!
When this happens, I know I’ll hear an indignant “But you said…!!!” from my kids.
Being a parent means trying to convince your kids that they want to do things your way (because you always know what is best for them).
I like to give my kids options: “Do you want this lollipop that has carpet fuzz all over it?” (while making a yuck-face), “or this yummy carrot?” (while nodding and smiling approvingly). Obviously, the correct answer is “carrot”. It’s clean, it’s yummy, it’s parent-approved… but they chose the fuzzy lollipop. So now what? I tried to be the magnanimous democrat and gave my kid a choice… Okay, so I tried to be the manipulative lobbyist that tells the voter what to vote for. Except my kid didn’t choose the option I wanted him to, and now my options are limited.
- I can give the kid the fuzzy lollipop and incur Bad Parent Points.
- If I say “Too bad”, and hand him the carrot, I will lose my credibility.
- Or, I can steal from my kids’ own playbook and yell “Just kidding!”, then hand over the carrot.
I almost always regret giving the kids choices in which one option isn’t going to work for me, so I try to offer two options I can live with. What I should have said was “Throw that lollipop in the trash and I’ll get you a snack. Do you want carrots or a fruit cup?”
Parenting resources advocate for giving choices to kids, and following through on the choices the child makes.
Giving choices to kids allows them to have a little control in their daily lives, and let’s them feel “heard”. Weighing options on the “little things” gives kids the experience they can draw on when decisions grow more complex in the years ahead. Offering two options for younger children to choose from makes decisions manageable. Somewhere down the line I forgot this advice:
Too many lunches with my fourth toddler began with “Do you want water? Do you want milk? How about juice? Do you want chocolate milk? No??? What do you want to drink? Water? Milk? Juice? Chocolate milk? Yes? Then why didn’t you say ‘yes’ in the first place?”
Turns out, my son was just lying in wait for the best option to present itself; he had learned that if he turned down one option, a better one would be presented. If your child is young, or you don’t routinely offer choices to your kids, there are plenty of articles that offer various strategies online (see Dr. Laura Markham’s advice on offering choices here).
Lack of follow-through will slowly ruin a parent’s credibility.
When I only had a few kids, following through on threats and consequences was (relative to having more kids in the mix) easier. Now, when I spout things like, “If you don’t clean you’re room, you’re grounded from TV for the weekend!”, my kids shrug and go their merry ways. They ignore my threats because they’ve learned that I frequently forget who I grounded for how long and why. They are able to sneak into a room like they belong there and watch whatever their siblings are watching, without me noticing for a while. The alternative is to ground everyone from TV, which isn’t fair to the kids who earned the privilege. The consequence to me, is that they need almost constant supervision to clean their room or they will slack off.
My younger sister and her husband consistently hold up their house rules. It means a brief struggle sometimes, but their kids know where they have a narrow margin for negotiation in some areas and where they have none at all. I envy the results of this type of parenting, even if I don’t envy the struggle it takes to be consistently consistent.
I am providing a link to an excellent article on parental consistancy that I highly recommend (written by Robert Lichfield, who has worked with “struggling teens” for 25 years). Lichfield challenges parents to examine what the word no means in their family; does it mean ask again later, or ask a million times?
Even as adults, we unconsciously assume the other person is going to choose the options that we want them to choose.
We’ve all had this conversation in the car: “Where do you want to go?” Your companion responds, “Anywhere you want, I don’t mind.” So you pick a place, only to be shot down, “No, not there… anywhere else though.” Indecision with a side of contradiction… yum. When my husband and I have this problem, we each pick the top three places we wouldn’t mind choosing, then we either discover we have a place in common, or we work from there. When we get the kids involved in the decision making, we let them all have a vote (between 2 or 3 choices). The incredible thing is that when my kids have to problem solve amongst themselves (which movie to watch, for example), they use the same strategies that they’ve learned from us!
Be careful what you ask for… especially if it’s a name!
We’ve asked our kids to help name the family pet, team names when we play in the park, and even their new sibling due to arrive.
What we think we’re going to hear: Cuddles, Samantha, or Bobby
What we actually hear: Chimichanga! Harry Potter! Poop!
You’d think a community of adults would come up with more appropriate names, but the Natural Environment Research Counsel (NERC) found otherwise, when their “#NameOurShip” campaign resulted in the popular vote, “Boaty McBoatface“. Like any responsible parent, NERC honored naturalist Sir David Attenborough instead of honoring public opinion; as a compromise they chose Option #3. NERC named the remote controlled sub aboard their ship “Boaty McBoatface” so they wouldn’t lose all credibility.
The moral of the story: Be careful of what you say to the Maturity-Challenged, or you might end up contradicting yourself and losing credibility.