At the end of a long, difficult day you are in the kitchen working hard to prepare and get dinner on the table. Not only are you feeling tired, you are fully aware that everyone needs food before one or more of your children experience a “melt down” from fatigue and low blood sugar. When you are close enough to asking all to sit down to eat you ask your 8-year old daughter to please set the table. No response. You ask again. Still no response. Finally you accuse her of laziness and selfishness, angrily telling her to come and set the table and she complies.
The weekend has finally arrived. As is your practice Saturday mornings are set aside for cleaning, straightening and completing weekly household chores that have been put off during the week.
Confident that your 11-year old son is cleaning his room, compiling his laundry, changing his sheets, you concentrate your efforts on tackling the kitchen. Finally you go to his bedroom to monitor his progress. Much to your horror you see you son still in bed, sleeping! How lazy! He’ll do anything to get out of helping you clean on a Saturday. Furiously and loudly you insist he get out of bed and start cleaning.
Running late, you hurry to the school to pick up your 14-year old as the two of you had planned. Although you are only a few minutes late your child is not in sight. Where is she? You park the car and go into the building. You can’t find her. You go into the office and ask one of the secretaries if she has seen your daughter. When she tells you “no” you really begin to worry. Were you so late that she took a ride with someone else? She wouldn’t be foolish enough to get in a stranger’s car, would she? Just as you are on the verge of panic you see your daughter come around the corner of the building, smiling and laughing with her friends. Your fury is as large as your worry had been only moments before. You let her have it, telling her that you and she had a plan. You expected her to be where she said she would be, when she said she would be there. You accuse her of being thoughtless and selfish. How could she have put you through such worry? You fail to mention to her that you were also late.
Although you could probably identify several of the errors that each of these parents made, the PEACEFUL PARENTING® point is that each of these children was not doing anything against the parent. All behavior is purposeful. The purpose of all behavior is our best attempt to get what we need and want. Rarely do our children want to annoy, ignore or infuriate us. That doesn’t mean that our children’s behavior isn’t annoying and infuriating. But that is almost never the purpose of our children’s behavior. They are doing what they are doing because of what they each want and need.
When our children want something different from what we want them to want, we are annoyed and irritated. But when you were 8-years old, did you care about setting the dinner table so that the family could eat? Did you ever want to spend Saturdays, your free day, helping to make a clean house? During your middle school years was your first priority to be sure you didn’t keep one of your parents waiting for you? Each of these “wants” is what the parents want, not what the child wants. As the parents we don’t need to relinquish what we want and cow-tow to what our children want. Hardly! We do need to understand and accept that we want our children to want the same thing that we do, (a timely dinner, a clean house, a child ready for us). Sometimes we are lucky and our children do want what we want. Other times our children are not even thinking about, considering, accepting or rejecting what we want. They are too busy concentrating on what they want.
So if you find yourself labeling your child as lazy, inconsiderate, selfish or any other less than flattering name, stop. Whether you are saying these labels out loud or thinking them, these names will do nothing to enhance your relationship with your child. They also won’t inspire your child to behave differently.
Instead, realize at that moment that what you want and what your child wants are probably two different things. Share with your child what you want and ask for assistance.
I want us all to eat dinner soon. Would you please help me set the table?
I was late coming to pick you up. When I saw you weren’t here I got scared that something bad had happened to you. I’m glad you’re safe, I’m sorry I was late. I’ll be on time next time. Will you? If appropriate ask your child what s/he wants and negotiate a solution where you can both get what you want
Saturday is my day to clean. What do you want your Saturdays to be like? I need you to clean your room, but if Saturday isn’t the day you want to do it, can we work out a different schedule? I don’t really care when you do it, I just want it done.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nancy S. Buck, Ph. D. established Peaceful Parenting, Inc.in 2000 to bring her knowledge and experience with effective parenting to the greatest number of parents and other caretakers of children. She developed the Peaceful Parenting ® program from her 25 years of experience as a developmental psychologist, trainer and educator with The William Glasser Institute and as the mother of twin sons. Her genuine, warm and authentic teaching style is clear and concise, helping learners move from the theoretical to real life situations.
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