It is 8pm and you’re entering the house after a hard day at work. Your 11-year old daughter just remembered she needs a special tool from the store for a project tomorrow, and she will be penalized if she doesn’t have it. The store is a 15-minute drive away, and if you turn right around and leave, you might be able to buy what she needs before the store shuts. “But why didn’t you tell me or Mom earlier?” you ask in desperation. “You’ve done this so many times! You get back from school at 3pm. You’ve had 5 hours to let us know, and you tell us now!”
“Please, Dad,” she pleads. “Just this once. Please. I won’t make a good grade unless you buy me the tool. Please. I promise. This is the last time.”
You’ve always bailed her out, so be fair to her and do it one last time.
However, make it clear to her that this is the very last time you will do so. When you get back, and are surrounded by profuse expressions of her love, sit her down and tell her that from this moment onwards, she has to be responsible for certain things in her life. Tell her in so many words, and start small. Start with whatever is bothering you the most.
“The next time you don’t tell us by 4pm, we will not get it for you.”
“If you wake up late and miss the school bus, I won’t drop you to school. You’ll have to miss school.”
“If you don’t put your clothes in the laundry basket, they won’t be washed. You can wear dirty clothes or stay in bed.”
“If you don’t tell me about your orchestra practice (or ball game or debating competition…) at least three days before the event, I will not take you.”
The next time they slip up, it is time to show that you love them enough to let them face the problem they have created. She needs to learn that there are consequences to not doing things on time. And she needs to learn it more than she needs to make a good grade on tomorrow’s project.
Just say no.
Your child will rave and rant. He will throw at you every accusation he can muster. Stand firm. He will take your breath away with the unfair and hurtful things he says (the first of which is that you do not love him and do not care about him!).
Do not give way. He will ask you why you are being so insensitive, hard-hearted, selfish… Don’t even bother to answer his questions, because he is not ready to listen to your reply. He may end up not eating dinner, banging doors, talking back, screaming…
Let him be.
She might even play the last trick up her sleeve. “Alright, if you don’t care enough about me and my grades to get me what I need, I won’t go to school tomorrow.”
Stay your ground. If need be, tell her that if she’s sure she won’t go to school the next day, she can stay home and you’ll arrange for supervision (if this applies to you). Let her know it is her decision, and that you respect it.
If not that evening, she will definitely have calmed down sufficiently by the following evening for you to sit her down and explain why you acted as you did. Tell her that reaping the results of your actions is part of growing up. Tell her that real life rarely gives you the same opportunity twice. There will be other chances, other opportunities, but the one that is gone is gone forever.
If you missed the flight that began your dream 30-day vacation, the holiday is not spoiled. Delayed and more expensive than you’d planned – definitely. But not spoiled. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you missed the flight.
She will get it if you sit down and tell her.
But this is where things often go wrong.
Instead of simply talking to our children and telling them our point of view, we get defensive. We tell them, and want them to still think well of us. We want them to agree that our action was correct, that it was justified. And so, instead of just telling them, we start pleading with them for their understanding. And when they withhold this understanding, we feel our firm decision begin to waver. Maybe one more time…
Beware! This is the time to stand firm. Hold on to the love you have for your child. Hold fast to your decision to be a good parent, to help your child become a worthwhile adult.
Your son will understand, but not while you are explaining. The understanding may come a week, a month, a year from the moment that you explain. Your child has become so used to being coddled by you that this sudden removal of the buffer feels like he’s been thrown into the sea when he can’t swim. What’s worse, you’re not even handing him a life-belt!
Such behavior perplexes the child, frightens him. It shakes the solid foundations of his world, because he has never before known what it was like to not have things set right for him. The rages, the harsh words are just his way of venting, of telling you he’s feeling abandoned.
But best they go through this feeling early, while you are still around to hold their hands and help them make sense of things. Tell your daughter this. When you tell her, she may see the point, or she may not. What is important is that you are not apologetic or defensive about your actions. And you are consistent about letting her bear the results of her action or inaction.
After he’s half-drowned, half-paddled his way out, help pump the sea water out of his stomach. Give him a hot bath and a back rub. Tuck him up in bed with a cup of hot soup and sit with him as you both relive his ‘drowning’ experience. He will know that you still love him, that you still care.
And then, follow through on what you have said. After all, you want to be a person of your word.
Sure there will be scenes. So what? There are scenes anyway. At least these will be scenes you are directing! And before you know it, you’ll have a runaway success on your hands.