Moms are always telling their children what to do and how to do it. Mothers know best! In a perfect world, our children would just listen intently to every word of wisdom that we give them, and they would follow every direction we gave them. If they listened to us, we could prevent their heartaches and headaches.
We tell our children what to do, and what not to do, because we, as adults have had more experiences, and we have learned what happens when we do, or do not do, certain things. We, as adults, understand what consequences are. Yet we would like to shelter our own children from experiencing consequences. Why should they have to go through what we went through? We can prevent it! We can shelter them, shield them and protect them by telling them what they should do.
As much as we would like to keep our children in a bubble of perfectness, we as Mom’s need to start thinking about helping our children progress and learn independence through other means.
Our job as parents is to help our children learn to be independent of us…how to thrive on their own (not really what we moms had in mind… won’t they always need us?). By focusing on making their choices for them (telling them what to do), we end up protecting them. This soothes our motherly souls, but can cause tension between parents and children and is not a great long term solution.
Children need to learn the value of a consequence. “If I do this, then this will happen”. Instead of focusing on telling your kids what to do, focus on helping them learn about results.
Let’s look at an example. It is a freezing cold day, and you need to get your 5 year old to kindergarten on time, and you are already running a bit behind schedule already. Your 5 year old is amazing, sweet, and stubborn, and refuses to put their jacket on. You spend 5 minutes explaining to your child how cold it is outside and that they will surely freeze to death if they do not put their jacket on. Your child spends that 5 minutes screaming “no” to you. In the end, you wrestle your child into that jacket and there are a lot of tears and the stress level is high. But you have won! Your sweet angel has that jacket on, and you know that they are protected and warm. Your child is sobbing and upset that you would not listen to them! But you know what is best for them…your child needs to listen to you.
Let’s look at another way of handling this. Instead of arguing with your child, allow them to experience a consequence. You have told your child once calmly that it is very cold outside and that they need to put their jacket on (be sure you make eye contact with them, get down to their level to ensure that they really hear you…their brains process things quickly and they may have a hard time focusing). When they refuse to put their jacket on, simply say “okay, that is your decision not to put your jacket on”. Then proceed to leave as usual. It won’t take long until they complain about how cold they are. In this situation, you will have brought their jacket with you, and when they complain about the cold, you will put it on them, and say something like “thank goodness for nice, warm jackets! Next time, let’s try putting your jacket on before you get too cold.”
In the second example, both Mom and child are less frustrated. Of course, Mom is still worried about her child, but she would never allow her child to be in a situation that was unsafe. Mom knew that this would be a good learning experience for her child. The child now knows that if they go outside without a jacket, they will be very cold, therefore they need to put their jacket on before.
Your child may also learn over time that what you are telling them is actually true. (“My mom did say that it was going to be freezing cold without my jacket, and it was. Perhaps I should listen to my mom next time!”). No one wants to be told what to do. It can be hard to rationalize with a 2 year old (or a 5 year old, or a 13 year old, or a 40 year old!)
Everyone learns more deeply when they have an opportunity to experience it themselves.
Reduce your own stress, and theirs, by breaking down the walls of protection. Let them make choices, and allow them to deal with the consequences of those choices and actions, and you will immediately create a more positive and respectful relationship.
You are an amazing Mom! Be sure to reward yourself today… Buy yourself some flowers, or give yourself 20 minutes of free time for a bath, shower, or to read a good book. You deserve to feel like a queen for 20 minutes every day. Go GIRL!
Tina O’Connor, BsC Psych.
President & CEO
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