Unlike many parents, I don’t even pretend that our household is a democracy. Our household is a benevolent dictatorship, and my husband and I are the dictators.
For that reason, as much as I can, I expect my 3-year-old to do as he’s told right away and without complaint. (If you think that sounds a bit over the top, just ask yourself what sort of child you prefer to be around.) So, when we run into problems in this area, it helps if I can think creatively and quickly. Just this afternoon, I told Adam it was time to clean up the toys that he had brought out to the living room. Quick as a wink, he insisted that he was playing with those toys and therefore couldn’t put them away. (I learned long ago not to be drawn into arguments about this kind of thing.) I just repeated the directions, giving him the option to choose which thing to put away first. He then said he was “too tired” to clean up.
Being the no-nonsense sort of mother that I am, I directed him to he spend the next ten minutes lying in bed, since he was supposedly so tired, with no toys or books. At one point I discovered that he had grabbed a book and was looking at it, so I re-set the timer and explained to him what was going on.
Wouldn’ t you know it, after his obligatory rest, he had more than enough energy to put away his toys. And I just bet that for a good long time to come, he will decide it’s worth his while to just do as he’s told.
In my experience, remaining calm (empathetic, even) and implementing meaningful conseqences goes a long way toward compelling a child to behave like a pleasant human being. I also believe that in most cases, a parent has to either “pay now, or pay later” (thus saith John Rosemond). That is, it might be “easier” to let things slide at the moment, but sooner or later, the child’s behavior has to be addressed.
In today’s world, it seems that more and more children are starting preschool or kindergarten without having learned how to behave civilly and show basic respect to the adult(s) in charge. Sadly, my nephew is one of these children, and he is repeating kindergarten because of it. His well-meaning parents have put so much emphasis on his creativity and self-esteem that they completely missed the mark in insisting that my nephew show respect to his own parents and, of course, to other adults.
Here’s hoping that parents will wake up and realize that trends may come and go, but children who know how to listen, stick with a task, and have self-control will always have the edge when it comes to growing into successful adults. Behaving civilly does not mean being brain-dead and not creative. Quite the opposite, in fact.