Communicating expectations

A few months ago, a parent emailed me and asked about a problem she was having with her children…

Both of my boys are at school now and they are obviously tired. The thing I am struggling most with at the moment is the flat-out refusals.  I give them an option of say bath or homework and they say “No, I’m not doing it”. I start with a count to 3 and they still refuse. I take away a privilege and they still refuse. I’m not sure where to go with it. I’ve tried time out, removing more privileges but the battle can end up so much bigger than the initial request. Sometimes when I offer to help it works but other times it ends with me delaying the required task. This just adds more pressure later in the evening. If it’s not completely necessary I make a deal to do it the next night and they usually are pretty good with it. I was just wondering what you have in your toolbox for when your kids simply dig their heels in.

Here is my reply…

Bath or homework? None of those sound particularly appealing to boys who like to be grubby and not have to think about spelling and maths beyond the school gate. I’d choose lego over those two any time too. My 7 year old regularly says No to doing the tasks of life because his head is in la-la-land. From what you wrote – I make a deal to do it the next night and they usually are pretty good with it – this is communicating expectations and making a plan to get it done.

For me, I always fall back on communication – communicating expectations. I do it oh so much. I communicate on Sunday what the week is going to look like. I communicate at dinner what the next day is going to look like. I communicate at breakfast what the evening is going to look like. When we get home of an afternoon I communicate the plan for the next 6 hours or so. At dinner I remind the boys that they need to have a wash tonight and the boys negotiate amongst themselves who is going first. Lots of communication, and when I forget to do it things don’t go as well.

When my boys were little I used to communicate what was going to happen before we went anywhere. They had limited experience of the world. They didn’t know what a vaccination at the doctor’s office meant, or a dental examination, or how to control themselves in aisle 3 at the supermarket (you know the one). Trying to talk them through it when they are in situ and overwhelmed is not going to cut it. Less anxiety creates happier times. If it’s going to hurt, or be boring or busy or challenging or scary, acknowledge it and talk about ways you can get through it. Kids appreciate honesty, it builds trust.

I talked them through what was going to happen during the day ahead or at the particular event we were going to.  If we were going to the supermarket, for example, before we went out the door I communicated the rules, what behaviour I expected from them, how long we were going to be, what they could do to help, and the reward for successfully completing the mission. I anticipated hunger, thirst, tiredness, and boredom, and packed a bag of food, water, comfort items, and small but interesting activities. Being able to meet kid’s needs when they arise builds trust. Because I did that with them when they were little, I don’t need to do it so much now they are older, they have become competent enough to manage themselves.

I am somewhat flexible and I am open to negotiation. Your family should transition from dictatorship when the kids are little, to democracy as they grow older.  If the boys can come up with a plan that suits them better but it still gets the job done, and it doesn’t impact on others, then that is great. A child will be so much more motivated with a plan that she has created, than one imposed on her. And it means that the child is taking responsibility for him/herself.  My  7 year-old LOVES movies and wants to watch a movie every afternoon, but we negotiate a plan where homework and reader is done before he can watch a movie. Or we commit to do readers at soccer training during the down-times.

But when things need to happen, as they do, and there’s no room for flexibility or negotiation, it gets done! Withdrawing privileges is my last resort and because I use it so rarely, my boys know that when I am deducting computer time I mean business.

Parenting is a balance of TAKING CHARGE and BEING KIND. Most difficulties can be addressed through being kind and considering that children are people too. Our job as parents is to guide and educate our children to know better and do better.

Narelle Smith

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Categories: Encouraging Desirable Behaviour

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