By John Stiteler
Don’t you wish children came with a user manual like your car does? Children are so much more important than a car, more precious than a car, and certainly more expensive than a car – and yet no user manual exists. The reason is that no two kids are alike and therefore no manual could ever be applied across the board.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all instructional guide for raising children, there are some simple steps to becoming better parents. Having 3 teenagers of my own and having spent more than a decade as a counselor and parent coach, here are the most common questions I have heard from concerned parents:
- How can I get my child to obey the first time?
- Why do I have to resort to threats or yelling in order for my kids to listen to me?
- Are there simple ways to reduce stress in my parenting style?
- What do I do when my spouse and I are not on the same page when it comes to parenting issues?
- How do I get my teen to open up and tell me what is really bothering them?
When I get these questions, I most often refer back to the principle I call, “Stop Dancing with WALTER.” Many parents get caught up in an unhealthy pattern or dance with their children. Let’s face it, all kids will be disrespectful or disobedient to their parents at some point. If not handled correctly, an unhealthy dance can result that actually ends up reinforcing the unwanted behavior. Positive parenting involves stopping the dance with WALTER and avoiding these parenting pitfalls:
W – Warnings
Do NOT give warnings. If your child never obeys until the 5th time you have given the instruction, than you have trained them to “5th time obedience.” Instead, train your child to 1st time obedience by asking once and then providing an immediate (and appropriate) consequence if action was not taken. Sometimes the word ‘consequences’ conjures up feelings of harshness or criticism, but that should not be the case when it comes to parenting. Consequences should be firm, yet be given with love and grace.
A – Anger
Do NOT express anger or disapproval. Expect kids to make mistakes – that’s how they learn and change. Anger will only cause additional stress for the child which will ultimately lead to further disobedience. Think about when you are under a lot of stress. Are you more likely to make mistakes? The answer for most of us is “yes.” The same is true with your child.
L – Lectures
Remember how helpful your parent’s lectures were? They didn’t work for us when we were kids so don’t put your kids through the same torture. When it comes to correcting behavior, the fewer the words the better!
T – Threats
Threats only add stress to both you and your child. Remember, added stress will only bring out the worst in everyone. Take time to stop and think before responding and then say what you mean and mean what you say.
E – Explanations
Pre-teen children do not need any explanations. Because mom or dad said so is reason enough. This can be hard because we think that explaining everything will make it easier for our kids. However, submission is a prerequisite for respect. Once your child consistently responds with a submissive, “yes mom/dad” then (and only then) do you start providing additional explanations as a training opportunity in helping them make good decisions. This usually doesn’t start until the child is around age 12.
R – Repeats
If you are not getting the response from your children that you desire, give short and simple instructions and only give the instruction one time! Consequences should happen immediately if action is not obeyed. The key to determining the right consequence is finding out your child’s currency. Every child has a currency or something that motivates them (TV, electronics, money, bedtime, etc.). Knowing what motivates your child will give you leverage in applying appropriate consequences.
If you find yourself “dancing with WALTER” on a regular basis, consider making an appointment with a family counselor or parenting coach. The staff at Total Health Guidance can provide additional parenting tips on how to break this pattern and establish a home with more peace and less stress.
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