Psychologically Speaking: Just say no

While it may be tempting to blame your child, your parenting may play a role in maintaining the very disruptive behavior you abhor.

child abuse 88 (photo credit: )
child abuse 88
(photo credit: )
Are you afraid to say no to your child? Do you think you should give your child whatever he asks for? Do you ever feel that, at times, he is the boss and you give in to avoid conflict, or that you have to give in because the consequences are too great if you don't? Do you feel like a prisoner in your own home? If you've answered yes to these questions, you may be surprised to hear that your son's behavior may get worse as he gets older. Don't expect that he will outgrow it or that it will get better on its own. My dad, of blessed memory, used to shake his head and say, "Little children, little problems; big children, big problems." He was right. That said, it is never too late to change the family dynamics, restore the parent-child balance, reclaim your position of authority and actually even enjoy being with your children. All it takes is a belief that what you are doing can, and will, make a difference with respect to your child's behavior. While it may be tempting to blame your child for his actions, your parenting may inadvertently play a role in maintaining the very disruptive or disrespectful behavior you abhor. Your child shouldn't have anything and everything he wants, and while he will protest, you are the person who can best teach him this. His protests are to be expected as he won't want limits and structure imposed on his life. This is true whether he is a toddler or a teenager - whether he wants the lollipops in the store or the car in the garage. Within a short period of time though, you may see a change of behavior. His protests can stop and he can become like the well-behaved child you've seen in the home of others. He may not only learn to respect you, but you will begin to respect and value yourself more as a parent. I see many parents who sadly acknowledge that they are actually afraid of their children. If they say no or set limits, they fear that their child simply won't listen, will be disrespectful and may even leave home. They express concern that their children will not like or love them and they surely won't be regarded as a friend in either the real world or on Facebook. How sad that parents feel they can't expect their children to treat them respectfully because they are afraid to make demands for fear of losing them. Children see things differently. They want their parents to parent. They don't want parenting to be dependent on being friends and seeking approval. Rather, it should be based on teaching appropriate behavior, setting proper limits and helping your child to grow and feel good about himself. To this end, here are a few tried-and-true suggestions: Be consistent. This is the No. 1 most important aspect of parenting and seemingly one of the most difficult to carry out. Your children know which button to press and they also know if you really plan to follow through on something. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Catch your child being "good" and reward him for it. We all love to be praised. It is much harder to notice and then comment on what your child is doing right but it means much more to a child's self-esteem than always pointing out the negative. Praise your child for trying as well as for being successful. A hug, a smile, a "well done" and an extra half hour of television or the use of the car work miracles, not to mention the occasional treat or surprise. Provide consequences for bad behavior. Let your child know what the rules are. If you don't like what he is doing or how he is acting, tell him and let him know what the consequences will be for not following the rules. You must be prepared to follow through on these consequences, so think it through carefully and pick something that you won't regret. Remember, it is the behavior that is bad, never your child. Keep your promises. Don't lie, cheat, scream or do anything that you don't want your child to do. You are their mentor. If you lose it, take time to apologize and remember charity begins at home. Treat your children the same way you would like to be treated. Encourage responsible behavior. Don't do for children what they are able to do for themselves if your goal is to encourage independence and trust. Spend quality time with your children. Sit together for a family meal as often as possible during the week and pay attention to what your children would like to discuss. Family time is the backbone of a strong family. Make home a fun place and a safe one for everyone. You have a right to be spoken to respectfully as do all family members. No one has the right to hit anyone else. Ask yourself if "this" will be important in three years. If the answer is yes, then insist on it. If the answer is no, let it go and move on. Love your child unconditionally. A child has to know love in order to give it. The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.