CHILDREN TRY TO TRAIN THEIR PARENTS as
much as parents try to train their children. Children want their
parents to wait on them hand and foot, to buy them whatever they
want, to grant them freedom and privilege, and to think everything
they do is wonderful.
If you have children, you know this is
true. They want a lot from you. And they use whatever tools they
can to attain it: throwing a fit, being cute, whining, wearing
down resistance with persistence, lying, trying to use your own
rules against you, pitting Mom against Dad, pretending to go
along with you in order to gain favor, being good,
trying to make you feel guilty, etc. Youre familiar with
the techniques. Every kid invents them anew and uses whichever
techniques he can get away with.
Ive seen parents counter their childrens
strategies with That makes Mommy unhappy, as if Moms
happiness is on the childs top-priority list. Id
hate to break the news to a mom who says this, but her happiness
is way down there, below cookies and cotton candy. The motivation
a child has to please a parent is weak compared to the motivation
to gain resources and privilege.
Therefore, if you have a child, you must
arrange it so there is a strong motivation to do what you want
something more powerful than It makes me happy.
Its not that your child doesnt care about you. Its
that the self-discipline it takes to be fair and sacrifice ones
own wishes for the good of someone else and for the long term
is learned. Its not inborn. So while your child
does want to please you, he also wants cookies and if
he can get them by being nice, he will. If he can get them by
screaming, he will.
Now that youre an adult, you know
its important to delay gratification. You know vegetables
are better for you than cookies. And you have enough appreciation
for long-term consequences that youre willing to sacrifice
pleasure in the moment. But your child isnt. So the two
of you are going to conflict.
In any conflict, failure to be aware of
the goals of the other person puts you at a disadvantage in gaining
your own goals. You want to buy them a book. They want more junk
(toys). You want them to eat vegetables and protein. They want
cookies and ice cream. You want to teach them manners and morals.
They want you to go pester someone else. By and large, they are
not the slightest bit interested in what you really want to give
Your goals are in conflict. That is
the way it is. You cannot make your goals align without
compromising your integrity, so you must be the one who
sets the standards and you must deal out consequences when the
standards are violated. Reasoning wont work with someone
who hasnt had enough experience to appreciate long-term
consequences. So you have to create immediate consequences. And
the consequences have to be more of a deterrent than the pleasure
your child gets from violating the standard. Knowing youre
disappointed usually wont do it. A good talking to
wont either. You need something sufficiently difficult,
inconvenient, or painful to make a child choose wisely: a week
without dessert, no TV for three days, extra chores. And it only
works when you make sure you follow through and enforce the consequences.
This is an important conflict. The way
it turns out makes a difference. Its your adult standards
against your childs whims. Its conscience against
genetically driven impulse. Its experience against ignorance.
Who will win? For your sake and for your childs sake, I
hope its you.
Accept the natural conflict
between parent and child.
and enforce them with consequences.