When we decide to start a family, the usual picture in our mind is of cute little babies, and perhaps playful toddlers. We don't typically envision gangly pre-teens or rebellious adolescents.
Consequently, we may begin preparing too late. If you want your children to listen to you when they are older, you must begin when they are very young. This is as much about training yourself as it is about training your children. It is about taking the time to be clear about what you want to teach your child, being as patient and kind as you can be, and being consistent and following through.
It may seem like a big hassle when they are little and you have your hands full, and there may be times when you want to say, "Do it because I said so!" However, if you are not assisting them to develop self-discipline and to take responsibility, and instead you are relying on the authority (power) that you have over them, you will be left stranded if they reach a point when they no longer respect your authority.
So, if you say it is time to pick up the toys, then it is time to pick up the toys. Even if you have to stand there with them, or help to get them going, the toys must be picked up. If you say it's time to pick up the toys, and you say it 15 times over a two-hour period, and go about your other work in between, then you are teaching them that you are not really serious. And 10 years later they won't believe that you're serious about their curfew either.
This is not so much about being stern and rigid, or creating a me-against-you power struggle, as it is about mutual co-operation and respect. It's also about flexibility in creating win-win outcomes. For example: "You don't want to put the puzzle away because it's not finished yet. How about if we just move it out of the way, and put all the other toys away."
If your children know that they can tell you what they need, and that you will listen, they will be more open and less defiant later on.
Many parents are so good to their children, perhaps catering too much to them so that they have almost everything they want. Parents feel that the children will really appreciate all of this as they get older and realize that they have had more than others. These parents also imagine that they will be spared the trials that other parents go through, because their children will like them so much.
Sadly, this often backfires. Children who are used to getting what they want as youngsters become frustrated and angry when suddenly parents are saying "No." They may want to start staying out late, dating, going to parties, etc. before parents feel they are ready. They may be sullen and demanding, and this is very painful for parents who feel they have given so much to their children. Not wanting to lose their affection, they may end up giving in to unrealistic demands, and then things slip out of control.
So enjoy the little ones, and let them grow at their own pace. But once in a while, look at them as though they were "teenagers in training." Ask yourself if the defiant little "No!" that is so cute now, will still be cute in 10 or 15 years. Attention to detail now will pay huge dividends later on.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or CDs, visit www.gwen.ca