Because I'm your mother: Parenting 101
I believe that mothers are supernatural beings. Somehow along with their existence, they probably go through some form of genetic mutation that allows them to develop super senses and fortune-telling abilities. They can smell their teenager's weed from the driveway before they arrive home, predict their kid’s cold days before it happens, and also read their teenager's mind as they are texting their soon-to-be unsuccessful plans. With all these superpowers, I have trouble understanding how such amazing people are at times manipulated and controlled by children.
I was shopping at Target not so long ago when I saw a kid engaging in an academy award-winning tantrum because he wanted a toy ninja turtle. The mother kneeled in front of him and said something like: “My love, I hear your words and see you’re feeling frustrated. Thank you for expressing your feelings but I need you to listen to my words now.” I didn’t know whether to buy the kid the four ninja turtles as a price for his extraordinary performance or give the mother my business card! Don’t get me wrong, as a therapist and a parent, I completely appreciate the validation of our children's feelings and emotions but I think that somewhere along the way we have lost some of our authority to do so. Not so long ago, it would only take your mother’s dead serious look to transmit graphic imaginary descriptions of what was going to happen if you continued doing what you were doing. After balancing out the options in your head, you had an impulsive reaction to stop immediately. Now, I see kids talking back and even being verbally aggressive to parents and teachers with almost no remorse. How did we get to this point? In general, we don’t want our kids to be afraid of us and grow up to be adults with mommy and daddy issues, but we also want to prevent raising whining adults with ownership issues.
Sometimes we tend to give long explanations of why our kids should stop doing what they are doing or we feel like they need to fully comprehend why we ask them the things we ask them. Jean Piaget believes that children should be viewed as “little scientists” as they try to make sense of the world by learning cause and effect. With this in mind, kids learn to obey and follow authority figures in the same fashion. We do not precisely have to give them an essay explaining what are the long-term psychosocial benefits of giving them chores. Sometimes a simple “Do it because I said so” is enough. Our kids will learn there are some areas in which they can debate and negotiate but is our responsibility as adults to teach them when. Children are master manipulators and negotiators and they fine-tune these skills as they grow. Sometimes they go to mom for something but they know when to go to dad instead because mom will certainly say no. If the thing they want is extreme, such as having Cheetos for dinner, then they go to gramma. The purpose of parenting in its basic form is to teach the child what's right and wrong so they can become good men and women. If you see your kid cleaning his room without you telling him then you should make a big deal about it and praise him. On the other hand, if you see your kid being disrespectful or miss behaving in a public place then your reaction should be such that stop that behavior on the spot.
One of the most complicated things when entering parenthood is adjusting your lifestyle to accommodate kid-appropriate activities. Of course, we cut down on some of our nightlife activities and change some of our priorities but this doesn’t mean that our children will govern our life activities. I believe that we impose a lifestyle on our children and they ultimately follow their parent’s example. We must teach our kids when it's time to play and when it's time to be still. Sometimes I see kids running around offices, banks, or other “serious” establishments and the parent behind just following them and occasionally saying “stop running or come over here” while the angry clerk looks at the kids with a fake smile being too polite to tell the parent “get your children out of my office!”. The golden rule of discipline is to establish appropriate consequences (good and bad). If your kid is running around the banker's office, then you get his attention and tell him what you want him to do instead. If this doesn't work, then you move to a consequence. If a child, in general, goes around the world not having consequences, he will truly believe that his bad behavior is acceptable. On the other hand, if your child behaves well in the same office, then a good consequence should follow. A trip to the park or another fun thing to do will now be a good reward for following your instructions and behaving appropriately.
There is power in simple answers. YES and NO are perfectly acceptable answers when dealing with your kid’s requests. Although kids tend to debate and argue repeatedly saying “but why?” You must stick to your decision and not give in. If your first explanation fails and you get another wave of “but whys” then the famous phrase used through generations can apply: BECAUSE I’M YOUR MOTHER, that's why.
After all, we did not always understand why our mothers did some things at the moment but we sure appreciate them now.