Few things get parents’ attention as quickly as kids’ potty talk! Recently I worked with a family whose two boys, Will and Logan (ages 5 and 3), were frequently finding hilarious entertainment in each other’s potty humor.
But parents John and Patti weren’t laughing – they were exasperated with their boys’ potty talk. When I checked in with them before our first coaching session, their goal was for the kids to “listen, obey, and have a healthy fear of us,” and John defined effective discipline as “hot sauce or soap in their mouths.” They only wanted to use this rather severe punishment after numerous warnings, but things were escalating out of control. The kids were spreading their potty talk around the neighborhood – eliciting giggles from their friends, frowns from those kids’ parents, and embarrassment for John and Patti.
As we problem-solved this issue during our first session, we talked about two important truths that were under the surface of this crazy situation:
Peer relationships carry increasing influence as children grow up. And sometimes, these relationships can be reason for parents to feel increasingly anxious.
Kids may choose good friends or they may not. Parents, wanting what’s best for their kids, have a tendency to over-control their children’s choices. I was one of those.
As Daniel entered elementary school, he had a friend Lynne and I did not particularly care for. Because they shared common interests, they gravitated toward each other. The fact that the friend was in our neighborhood also made it almost impossible to fully monitor their interaction. We tried to convince Daniel that while this friend needed God’s love, we didn’t think their friendship was a good idea. But even as a seven-year-old, he was resistant to our control.
As a typically impatient, “get it done” sort of dad, I found myself in our early parenting years using my big voice and strong presence to move my kids into action.
This approach worked great for me! …But my wife Lynne, in my opinion, seemed to spend too much time arguing with the kids or letting them try to talk things out.
Lynne did two things that helped me grow to be more thoughtful, honoring, and wise.
Rick was feeling impatient with the way his wife was responding to their children’s misbehavior
He shared his thoughts with me during a recent conversation: “I’ve always been the kind of dad that likes to get things done efficiently. When I’d come home and see my wife in seemingly endless conversations with the kids about cleaning up messes or how to treat each other, I’d step in and take over because I figured sometimes these kids just need to know what’s what and who the parent is. The kids would comply and we’d get on with life. At the time I thought my wife was taking way too much time to do what should be quick and pretty easy.”
Since Rick was talking as if that was the way it once was, I asked him what had changed. Here’s what Rick said:
“Knock it off! Stop it! Get over here, NOW!” These are familiar phrases for most parents. When kids act up we get frustrated. We get demanding and even disrespectful. Kids may comply with our demands in the short run but over the long run they learn from our example to be frustrated, demanding, and disrespectful when they’re not getting their way.
Dustin was becoming this kind of parent. He saw where it was leading and knew he wanted to walk a different road. He looked at numerous resources and when he discovered Connected Families he knew he had found what he was looking for. For the past 14 months he has immersed himself in Connected Families resources and support. Where once his primary goal was quick fixes and parental control, his primary goal is now to come alongside his kids as a model of God’s grace and guidance. It’s been hard work and it’s far from finished. But this recent report from Dustin shows the results:
Parents usually have good desires for their kids. They want kids to be respectful, responsible, faithful, obedient, and so on. But when parents make these behaviors their primary goals for parenting, their kids tend to resist. Why? Kids tend to resist because no one likes to be controlled – and parents’ good goals are usually mingled with a little selfish motivation of “wanting life to go smoothly for my benefit” that kids pick up on. So when parents’ varied efforts to meet these goals are met with children’s resistance, parents and kids alike feel frustrated.
I just watched a video from a youth ministry leader. He intentionally stated one reason it’s so hard to relate to teens, and unintentionally stated the real reason.
His intended explanation is that teens are hard to relate to because of the big relational changes that happen as kids move toward independence. The authoritative style of parenting — “you say no and the child doesn’t argue”– used with young kids no longer works, so a new form of relational influence must be learned. More listening and negotiation is needed to empower teens toward independence.
He’s right to say that the authoritative parenting used with young kids contributes to the problem. But he’s wrong to brush over it as if it’s expected to be this sort of parent with young kids.
He’s right about the importance of relational influence. But he’s wrong to say that we should wait until kids are teens to learn to have relational influence.
In our work coaching hundreds of parents of teens over the years, we’ve hit on six themes that draw the parent-child relationship closer. Read through and let us know in the comments below which of the tips you want to implement in your family.
Parents frequently say, “It’s my job to be ‘the parent’, not my kid’s friend!” Or, “My kids need to learn that I don’t have to explain everything. Sometimes they just need to know that it’s time to obey without explanation, because I’m the parent!”
These statements beg the question, What does it mean to “be the parent?”
I just read another decent parenting book by a well-known author. It’s got some good ideas in it about how to manage kids’ misbehavior. But like so many of the parenting books I read, it is laced with what I think is a subtle but huge parenting mistake: Arrogance.