Why Your Child ‘Listens’ to You Sometimes

The complete title of this post is: Why Your Child Listens to You Sometimes and How to Ensure This Happens More Often. 🙂

I must clarify that the word ‘listen’ in the title has been used according to your definition of the word, not mine. When I say ‘listen’, I mean pay heed to an idea or thought, consider it. The listener is then free to embrace the idea partially or wholly, or to reject it.

When you use the word ‘listen’, you mean ‘do as I say’ or ‘obey’. So this post is about why your children do as you ask them to do sometimes, and how to make sure they obey you more often.

I believe there are 2 laws at work which make a child obey its parent(s). One is the law of expectation, which I have talked about earlier. If you truly expect a child to do as you have said, you will usually find very little (if any) opposition to your will.

The other law, which unfortunately comes into play a lot more often, is the law of desperation. Most of the time, you are desperate that your child obey you. And how can you not be desperate?

My daughter rarely remembers to apply lip balm. When she was little, years ago, I would do it for her. When I got her her own lip balm (at 6 or 7), I said if she was old enough to choose the flavor and brand of her lip balm, she was old enough to apply it, so all I would do was remind her to do so. Like so many other things, the novelty of having her own lip balm ensured that for the first few days, it was applied many times a day. Then, it became just another chore. One had to wash one’s hands (she had the balm in a little pot)…, and there were so many other, more interesting things to do – so the lip balm application fell by the wayside.

Her lips dried up, started peeling, started cracking so badly that she had blood oozing from them. Sometimes, dried blood was caked on them, and smiling, eating, drinking, talking became painful. “It hurts!” I was told, as if I personally had taken a hatchet to her!

“Well, you don’t remember to put on the lip balm,” I pointed out.

“It’s too much work! It’s cold and I have to keep washing my hands to put it on. There has to be a simpler way.”

“Okay. Shall we get one of those lip balm applicators that works like a lipstick? You just roll it up, apply it, roll it back down, and you’re done.”

I heard an enthusiastic yes. We went shopping and bought something. History repeated itself. For the first few days, all was well. Then some days it got left behind at home when she went to school, and she wasn’t able to reapply it in school and her lips bled and the blood caked up and…

We bought another stick of lip balm. One to keep in the school bag; one at home, so she would always have access to something.

One got lost. We bought another. She changed her mind about the flavor – she didn’t like it any more. We bought another.

Years down the line, I still come across one or two of those ancient lip balms on sticks and toss them into the bin. But the point is: she just did not apply it.

Let me tell you, it hurt to see her with lips either bleeding or caked with blood over 50% of the time. I once told her even the beggars on the streets didn’t have such dry lips. “Mom, give me a break, okay? Don’t get after me all the time. I know what to do, and I’ll do it if I want to” was the response I got, along with all kinds of dire looks. (Sigh! :-))

On various occasions, members of my family took me aside saying I should do something about it, because besides looking terrible, she was in real pain – unable to smile or talk, eat or drink. I told them I reminded her every now and then, and they were welcome to join me in doing so (which they wisely refrained from! 🙂 ), but beyond a point, she had to look after herself.

Once it got so bad that I actually applied some Vaseline to her lips after she had fallen asleep.  This happened for two consecutive nights. Then I thought, “What the heck! Into every life some rain must fall. If this is the trouble she chooses for herself, so be it.”

And that’s where we are today.

I once asked her how come she ‘forgot’ to apply the balm despite the pain. “There are so many other things…,” she said. I smiled my understanding. How could I not? There are a million billion things that are so little, so simple, that I can do for myself, which will make my life easier, simpler. More importantly, these are things I actively want to do for myself. But I don’t do them – because there are so many other things… 🙂

So when I say the law of desperation, I know what I’m talking about.

You know what I’m talking about too! Your child is low on iron, but won’t eat any proteins or green leafy vegetables, and won’t pop that iron pill either. He is sleepy but won’t stop playing that computer game so he can get enough zzzs. He can cure his 19/20 eyesight by doing eye exercises, but won’t. (And he says he doesn’t want to wear spectacles!) All he needs is 15 minutes of Math practice a day, and he’ll be a whiz – but he doesn’t find the time…

As a parent, there are innumerable times you are desperate – often for a very good cause. But the point is, the more desperate you are, the lower the chances that your child will ‘listen’ to you.

When you care about an outcome beyond a point, you build failure into it. Read that once more. When you care about an outcome beyond a point, you build failure into it.

Think about all the times you ‘won’ at something, all the times you succeeded. You were ‘cool’ about it, not desperate. And now think of all the times you were ‘desperate’ to have things your way (people, situations, results) – rarely did the chips fall in your favor.

I don’t know why this is so, but I have found it to be always true.

The funny thing is, the few times I have succeeded despite the desperation, I have found that once I’d got the outcome, I didn’t want it! I’m sure you can relate to this one too. 🙂

If you can drop the desperation, and have the expectation, there’s a good chance that your children will ‘obey’ you more often than they do right now.

And for the occasions they don’t, remember: into every life, some rain must fall.

When I was a child, an aunt told me, “It is up to you to get your father to stop smoking.”

I was fired with enthusiasm, and confronted him right away. “You’ve got to stop smoking! You know what it does to your lungs, your health, your life. Just stop, okay?”

My father, a very wise man, replied, “You know we all have to die one day, in some way or other. Maybe I’ve decided to choose this way.”

Nothing more to be said, is there?

P.S. I am anti-smoking personally, but it is every person’s right to choose for themselves at every point in their lives.

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