Last week, I ran a parenting workshop and parents’ biggest frustration was “My kids don’t listen to me”. Everyone in the workshop shared this frustration whether their children were toddlers or teens. It took me some time to change the focus of the workshop from complaining about it, which is suitable for psychology or “recovery”, to thinking about what we can do about it and how to move forward, which is more suitable for coaching or “discovery”.
Going through life is like sailing a ship and being its captain (see Sailing the Ship of Life for more). When we complain, it is like dropping an anchor, and when we consider what to do about the situation, it is like raising an anchor and moving forward. Progress may be slow at first, but it is better to move than to be stuck.
Parenting is just the same.
You want your children to be better, not bitter
The first thing to remember is that your children are not an extension of yourself and the main reason they don’t do everything you tell them is that they are separate to you. They are also different from you. They grow up in a different environment than you did. They have different desires and fears. They have different names and upbringing. They don’t grow in the same house, neighborhood and school, or with the same parents, siblings and friends that you did.
As their parent, you actually want them to be different. You want them to be better, yet if they do all the things you tell them to do, they will end up a version of you – bitter (which is why you complain). What a shame! I would not settle for anything but better.
Most of the time, parents focus on how to make their kids do the things they want them to do, rather than changing their own expectations and the way they treat their children. This just doesn’t work.
Obedience is not the skill you want your kids to have
Children need to develop their own definitions of good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, successful and unsuccessful, kind and unkind. If life is music, they need to find their own rhythm.
Parenting is giving your kids opportunities to develop these definitions in a safe space
Our children need our help to develop their own definitions, their own music and their own song. Every time we tell them what to do, we rob them of the opportunity to develop the skills that are so essential to their life.
If they do what we want them to do, the only skill they develop is obedience. When raising obedient kids, you are raising them to be victims of abuse by any person in their life who will use power or authority to manipulate them. Obedient kids become obedient grownups and attract into their lives abusive partners, abusive friends and abusive bosses. Although I don’t like the saying “It’s all because of my mom and dad”, I think it is true in this case.
Preachers are not good teachers
The most common strategy parents use when trying to teach their kids what is right and what is wrong is to preach. Usually, this happens when things do not happen the way the parents expect them to. After a while, the kids learn that whenever you are not happy, you start with the lecture and this anchors them to resent your lectures, even when your points are valid and important for them.
In a way, making your child sit down for 5 to 20 minutes and listen to you preach dilutes the value of your words. I know people who do this for 30 to 60 minutes, when it only takes a few seconds for the child to role their eyes in frustration, think “Not again!” or “He/she is doing it again”, and wait for the parent to finish without getting any of it.
Such lectures raise bitter kids, not better ones. Lecturing is abuse of power and when you abuse your power as a parent, you lose your authority and importance as a parent.
At first, your kids may not listen to you because they have other ideas, but after a few lectures, they do not listen to you because when you start speaking, they count the seconds until you shut up!
Instead of asking, “How can I make my kids do what I want them to do?” you need to start asking, “What can I do so that my kids value my thoughts, beliefs and ideas?” When you change yourself, you change the outcome.
Now, because I am in the “moving forward” industry and believe in making things better, I will share with you five tips that will help you build strong trust between you and your children and make your words more valuable to increase the chance that they will listen and accept your advice.
Come back next time to learn How to Switch Your Parenting from Preaching to Teaching.