When your kid is defiant (The golden rule beats a golden shower.)

We’ve all been asked to do things  we feel are ridiculous.  Maybe the store-owner asks you to use the restroom stall to breastfeed your kid.  Maybe your mother, forgetting what it’s like to be a parent, tells you that you really should prioritize wiping the baseboards daily. Maybe a guy with buttons and a clipboard knocks on your door and asks you to support the Trump campaign.  Maybe your boss decides you need an office mascot and asks you to wear a bear suit every Friday.  Maybe your husband gets bored and asks you to join him in a bedroom activity requiring full bladders and snorkel gear. Anyway.

Imagine being in any one of those situations.  Ugh, right? This is how your kid feels sometimes. To him, asking him to only eat in the kitchen or -heaven forbid- remove the trash from his bedroom, or wear his jacket on a breezy day, or refrain from urinating in the corner of the park, invoke, in his child-mind, a similar, “are you serious?!” reaction.

Of course, as a rule, empathy is never a bad thing.  But perhaps the most important reason to keep in mind that our requests feel arbitrary and cumbersome to our children, is to model reciprocal communication, negotiation, and mutual respect during disagreement.  Ensuring that the child’s toys are picked up and he’s wearing weather-appropriate clothing is a great parenting goal; Teaching that kid to respect himself and others, and navigate times when desires differ, is a fucking rock-star parenting goal.  Also, research.

Since my mom listened to me when I explained that destroying my

Benny says: Even though my mom said we had to take down my precious “booby trap,” I still knew my mom cared about my broken heart. She does weird stuff like listen to my perspective because she wants me to pick someone who is empathic to marry someday and she also wants me to treat my future wife with empathy.

Honoring our children’s perspectives does not mean we shouldn’t set limits with our kids.  It does not mean we should let our kids live in filth and never do homework and get sick and pee in public.  But a little empathy does inform HOW we set limits with our kids.

Imagine for a second, that your husband asks you for that last request.  The one where you guys are both well-hydrated and wearing goggles.  (Come on.  You have to admit this was a fitting example.  Arbitrary? check. Cumbersome? check.  Are you serious? Check.)

How do you want your husband to react to your resistance to his request?

a)  Anger and coercion. You HAVE to. This is not up for argument.  Quit your grumbling.  You have until the count of three before I spank you.

b) Empathizing with you and gently explaining his perspective.  I can see how this might be strange and gross to you…It just gets me excited to share in something so intimate and outside of our typical routine…Maybe there’s something we could do before-hand to make you more comfortable?

Now.  In which scenario will you be most likely to go outside of your comfort zone, even though you think this is completely ridiculous, on account of how much it means to your husband?  And in which scenario would you refrain from cursing under your breath and secretly hating your husband for even asking you for such a thing?

a)  Your husband spends a lot of time with you, regularly seeks to understand your perspective, and generally shows he cares.  He gives you one-on-one attention and makes you feel respected in every-day life by listening to you and caring about how you feel.

b)  He doesn’t really listen to how you feel or give you one-on-one attention.  Basically, he tells you what he wants and gets annoyed when you don’t do it.

It is the same with kids.  Explaining why you make your requests (instead of “because I said so,”), empathizing with how they must feel, and putting in the work of making them feel loved and respected in every-day life, is common courtesy that everyone wants, young or old. And it is the only thing standing between accomplishing your rockstar parenting goals and accomplishing nothing more than a whole bunch of heated power struggles.

You have to admit, a loved one using “The Golden Rule” (treating you how he would want to be treated) beats an authoritarian “golden shower” any-day.

********

For more on kids, couples, and psychology, find OTYC on Facebook.

P.S. I will be writing a sequel to this post which includes real parent’s experiences using four different tactics to address defiance (intentional time-ins, choosing their battles, explaining their reasoning, and applying ultimatums.)  Instead of taking my word for it, I want parents to see, first-hand, how the first three techniques help, and the last one back-fires.  If you would like to participate in this post, by offering your own experience, please click here.

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4 thoughts on “When your kid is defiant (The golden rule beats a golden shower.)

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