Reasoning with small children is not a good habit to get into. While babies, toddlers and younger children can be fairly logical – i.e., if I cry mom will come, if I smile I’ll get smiled at, if I scream I’ll get what I want, etc. – they are primarily emotional beings. Because they are emotional and into instant gratification, attempting to rationally and logically reason with them will not work. It will leave you both frustrated.
Whether you consider your house government a democracy, dictatorship, a constitutional monarchy or a theocracy is not the issue. I am not saying be authoritarian and ignore your child’s feelings. I’m not saying ignore their likes, dislikes and preferences. I am referring to those times when they challenge you to a duel. The one-on-one battle of the wills. The times when you realise that the result of this face-off is far more important than the actual physical issue. These are the times, parents, when you must be steadfast and avoid retreat. Ultimately, of course, you are on the same side. But sometimes, just every now and again, you will receive friendly fire.
Some thoughts on reasoning:
1) By reasoning you will lose your authority. There will be times when you ask them what they want and you give it to them. Then there will be times when you have required them to do something and they are trying to get out of it. If they have effectively engaged you in a power struggle then they have already won. Before the struggle gets fully under way, you must act in a way to curb it. A power struggle goes something like this, “Do what I say and follow my instructions, I’m the boss” to which they repeatedly reply “No, I don’t want to. No” or even more annoyingly, they scream. If they aren’t convinced your word is the final authority then something is amiss. What if your boss at work had to pathetically try and convince you he was boss? What would you think? I know what you’d think. You’d think, “He’s a crap boss. I should have his job.” Well well well, there you have it, my friends….
2) There is a difference between giving them a choice and getting into a power struggle. Choices are a good thing. They teach decision-making skills and how to deal with logical consequences. It is good training for them and allows them freedom of expression and individuality. Letting them choose their clothes, their snack, certain activities, etc. are useful and good. Allow them to begin figuring out what they like and don’t like, but not in a way that is disobedient to you.
3) No bargaining or bribery. Kids are better bargainers than those guys working the markets in Europe. $50? No? $35? as he follows you down the aisle. $15? Final offer! “Sold,” you say thinking, “aha, sucker!” as you walk away with your fake pearl badly plated adjustable ring that breaks twenty minutes later when you dig your diet coke out of your purse. Bargainers are crafty and they are persistent. If the rule is “you can’t go to the park if your homework isn’t done” then that’s it. When park time rolls around and they haven’t done their homework, then they start in. “I’ll do it when I get back. So-and-so never has to do his homework. Don’t be so mean. You never let me have any fun.” This is where you start singing your favourite song in your head to block them out or you go to another room. Whatever your method, forget the park. The park is no longer an option. The park may as well have been turned into a crater by a meteor for all you care. The park is dead to you. If you can’t stand up to a four-year old then you’ll run screaming from a 15-year-old! Avoiding bribery and bargaining will teach them that you mean what you say and it’ll teach you to say only what you mean. Once the mutually agreed upon rules are set and they are fair, hang onto them like they are a paper ticket to heaven.
4) Kids don’t actually know what’s good for them, they just know what they want. The whole point of discipline is to teach them to do what is best for them. Discipline should not just be synonymous with punishment. Discipline actually means training. Kids are emotional and, while fairly logical, they are still childish. Many adults don’t know what’s good for them so why would kids be any different? If you’ve set an unfair punishment then, by all means, apologise to your child and ask forgiveness. Explain your error. This is not weakness, this is humility and will teach them that messing up is normal. If you are right and fair and they are simply being children and testing you, then just think of it like this: what you do now is for the good of their future. Sure, going back on your word once or twice won’t make them think you an easy mark. But it is surely not something to get into the habit of.
5) Kids do not grow battle weary like adults. Long before they are finished crying/screaming/reasoning/pouting/fussing you are ready to throw in the towel. “Fine, who cares, it’s not a big deal anyway, just
shut up be quiet,” you are thinking. If you engage with them then it may be hard to outlast them. The way to avoid power struggles is to not let them get started in the first place. If you ask them to do a chore and they say no, depending on their age, either take them to that area and get them started or remove them from the current situation to time out (or your family equivalent). If they are watching TV and ignoring you, turn the TV off. Don’t even engage them in battle.
Children are the best things in the world and, most of the time, it is truly our pleasure to please them. If we’ve made a mistake or been too harsh it is often necessary to apologise and relent. Sometimes, however, when it’s for their own good, we have to know when to dig our heels in.
PS – Read more articles on parenting tips and wisdom here!