A mom asked a terrific question in our Redirecting Children’s Behavior™ Course on Sunday. We were in the midst of a discussion on handling power struggles, talking about two of the redirects for power – offering children choices and allowing them to say “no” respectfully. In addition to side-stepping a power struggle, both of those options have added bonuses. Offering children choices teaches decision-making skills, and allowing children to say “no” respectfully prepares them for saying “no” as a young adult – “no” to drugs, undesired sex, cigarettes, and anything else not in their best interest. Many parents – including me – grew up without that option. I look back on many risky decisions that I made and see the importance of recognizing at an early age that it is OK to say “no.”
As we were discussing all of this, one mom sought clarity. She asked how you know when you are raising a child who is entitled because you’ve allowed him choices and permitted him to say “no”. Will a child who is given choices respect authority?
The key to the answer is respect. As Pam Dunn of Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company says, “Entitled really equals disrespectful. If a child is entitled, it isn’t about choices or saying “no”, it is about parents teaching respect.”
To teach respect, here are a few ideas to consider:
• Saying “no” doesn’t mean the conversation ends there. That “no” is actually the beginning of a conversation on what your child would like to contribute. If he doesn’t want to set the table, would he prefer to clean the kitchen after the meal or fold the clothes in the dryer while someone else cleans up? Would he prefer to take out the trash or feed the dog? Making a contribution is how we all feel valuable. The more valuable you feel, the less you will be inclined to power struggle.
• Saying “no” is done respectfully by both parents and children. If your child has a sarcastic or disrespectful tone, respectfully model how you would like him to say “no” to you.
• Endless negotiations are subtle power struggles. Do not endlessly go back and forth. Be clear about your request and about the choices available to your child. If you begin to feel angry or challenged, use one of the tools for redirecting a power struggle.
• The parents of entitled children ultimately feel resentful, and entitled children ultimately feel discouraged. Parents feel resentful because they are doing things they do not wish to do. Remember the part about saying “no”? Children feel discouraged because they do not realize how capable they are. They are looking for others to lean on to do things for them. Look for ways for your child to take on more responsibility. That will build his strength. When we do for our children the things that they can do for themselves, it is like a personal trainer lifting the weights for you.
If you are looking for more on this topic, Karen Deerwester's book The Entitlement-Free Child: Raising Confident and Responsible Kids in a "Me, Mine, Now!" Culture is all about teaching respect.
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