Have you ever thought about how much you ask of your child(ren) on a daily basis? Have you ever (even once) stopped to consider whether or not your current request — or any one of them — is a reasonable one, or necessary? I think we parents often tend to refuse and to ask things of our children without really considering what it is we are doing. We can get habitual about saying, “No,” because we fool ourselves into thinking that it’s easier, or that we are saving ourselves from our kids running amok. And likewise, we can get habitual about asking things of our children that are unreasonable, ill-timed, and/or absolutely unnecessary.
What I am asking (of both you and myself) is that we spend an instant, right before we make requests of our children to check in with our brains and see if what we are about to request is worth requesting, a reasonable thing to request, and necessary to request. It may seem cumbersome from the perspective of this moment, but with any practice at all, the process can become lightning fast and just as habitual as the process of lobbing requests and commands without any thought about their appropriateness.
Now the first question that you may be asking is “Why?”. Why bother considering what we are asking of our children — aren’t they supposed to do whatever we ask regardless of what it is, or how reasonable or how necessary? And (still) most parenting books on the market today will likely never even introduce the subject of reconsidering our requests — they are too busy filling the pages with techniques for getting our kids to do anything we ask, whatever it may be. The assumption seems to be that, if we want them to do it, the only question is how to make them.
As I see it, though, we want to check in with ourselves about what we are requesting of our children for three main reasons:
- First, and foremost, we ought to consider what we are asking as a simple matter of respect. Despite what we might have been taught in our own childhoods and since, our children are people too. They deserve a little consideration — as any human would — before we just order them around. Furthermore, and here’s the kicker, eventually our kids will grow up, and the respect we afford them now will model the respect we want them to have for themselves and the other people they deal with in their lives — respect for what they want for themselves, and respect for what others want as well — all of which is vital for their success in life.
- The second reason we want to consider our requests before we make them is that often what we were about to ask is immediately made unnecessary. If we wait a millisecond, a lot of what we would otherwise badger our children asking about is taken care of on their own terms — which is preferable for lots of reasons, not the least of which is helping them move further toward autonomy.
- The third (main) reason for considering our requests is that we want to conserve the power of their effectiveness. If we are constantly requesting, commanding, and asking things of our children, we risk diffusing the importance our children attach to what we ask of them. And inevitably, under these conditions, our children will more likely resist what we request.
So just what are we asking of ourselves before we ask something of our children? It is a short list, and as I already mentioned, it can become automatic with very little effort:
- First, we just want to check in to make sure that what we are requesting of our children is appropriate for their st/age. This maybe difficult if your expectations are/have become unrealistic. For instance, expecting your toddler to be dead silent and sitting still during his older sister’s ballet recital, or during a special dinner is developmentally inappropriate. Expecting your 6 year old to keep her clothes dry while playing next to the river, may also be unrealistic for her st/age. Expecting that your teenager should have the same aesthetic preferences for his room as you do may likewise be too much — even if he is still “living under [your] roof”. If you need to recalibrate your sense of what is appropriate for a given stage of development, here’s some general development info from the U of Michigan (again).
- After checking to be sure that the current request is developmentally appropriate (and again, you might have to think about that at first, but once you have more information and you’re used to it, you won’t have to think much about it…) then the second consideration we want to make is whether what we are asking is reasonable at all. Does it make sense to ask what we are asking, or are we just wanting to exercise our ability to get our kids to do whatever we ask. The secret to this one is to be able to answer the question “Why?” without resorting to “Because I said so…”. If you have a legitimate answer to why you’re making the request, then chances are it’s pretty reasonable to make it.
- The final consideration I suggest is whether or not what were about to ask is necessary. As mentioned above, it may not be, and we can save ourselves some time and our relationship with our children can be spared some stress if we just bite our proverbial tongues as often as we need to do so. The question for ourselves here is, “Do I really need to ask this?” Maybe try just watching sometimes to see if your kid(s) think of doing what you were about to request without your interference — you might be pleasantly surprised.
The bottom line with all of this is that if we take a moment to think about it, will we still make the same request(s)? I think it is worth considering, because if the answer is “No”, then we ought to refrain from making the request(s). It will likely be better for our children and our relationships with them than seeking the newest most effective way(s) to get them to do whatever we ask.