Monday, April 30, 2012

What to do when you can't MAKE them do anything...

I wrote a status update on Facebook yesterday "In case there are people out there who have not yet learned this, if a child is too big to physically move you really can't MAKE them do something...."

My sarcastic friends offered structured parenting and sticker charts. Sigh :-)

But down to the last few years of parenting 12 kids (7 are over 18 and three get to 18 in the next 10 months) I've learned a bit about "MAKING" kids do something.

Here are some suggestions because one commenter asked me seriously to explain what to do:

1) Let go of your own emotional ties to the success of your children. Whether it is rooted in pride (not wanting to be embarrassed) or the societal misconception that bad children are raised by bad parents, it's important to remove yourself from the picture in regards to your connection to their behavior. When my kids are refusing to do what I say, it's not because I'm being a bad parent.

2) Assume can't, not won't. A child with ODD may not be able to do what you say because of the disability -- and often we forget that ODD is a mental health diagnosis. Concluding that they are simply being noncompliant to annoy us may not be accurate. And it is quite possible that they can't do what you are asking them to do for whatever reason.

3) Realize that no child internally really wants to have parents and siblings and teachers angry with them all the time. Bart often tells me, "Do you think he WANTS to be like that? If he had a choice, don't you think he'd be different."

4) Pick your battles. There are a lot of things that I get very worked up about on a daily basis that are stupid control issues on my part. Do my kids HAVE to clean clothes EVERY day when they are 17 or 20 or 23? Sure, I want them to smell nice and I want their teachers to think that we do laundry around here, but eventually other people say things to them and they figure it out. Other examples include going to every class (like I can control that when they are at school and I'm at home) or turning in homework (I can make them do it, but I can't make them turn it in).

5) Recognize that there are things that life will teach your kids that they aren't going to learn from you. Several of my kids act differently away from home than at home and (fingers crossed) eventually all of them are going to be living away from home. That means that they will probably be able to do better than I think they will. And the lessons they need to learn -- such as being horribly mouthy can get you beat up -- will be better taught somewhere else...

6) Determine which things make your home unbearable and then change the definition of unbearable. I hate swearing and disrespectful behavior. I hate some of the music my kids listen to. There are several things that in the past we labeled unbearable. But because of our experience with residential treatment we now have a shorter list. If children are under 18, the only things that would force us to seek an out of home placement would be if we felt we were unsafe or others in the home were truly unsafe. I have a son who threatens to kill me about three times a week, but I know he isn't going to. I don't feel any lack of safety. He's not going to do it. He's been saying that for years. However, 6 years ago I had a son who did the same thing and I never felt safe. He ended up having to be in residential treatment. I think you're getting the picture.... make your list of things that you can't stand or handle smaller.

Parenting teens is like teaching them to drive. You can't be in control -- so realize it and relax as much as you can.

So once again it's a message none of us want to hear -- it's not about making our kids do anything -- it's about making ourselves change by changing our expectations, getting rid of our control-freak tendencies, and thinking differently about our kids.

Ugh. I hate it that I'm the one who always has to change!


Linda said...

Very good post. Thanks for writing it. All so very true! Unfortunately, learned the hard way.

Anonymous said...

Love this. It really resonates with me. We allow our youngest to do things our older kids would never have gotten away with. It's all about where you choose to draw the line and for us, now, it's just about safety. That's the only real non-negotiable we have.

Lulu McCabe said...

Amen on all fronts! I've found, too, that the less you try to MAKE them do something, the more likely you'll wake up one day and they'll say "Hey, you know what I think I'm going to do?" and do what you were hoping of their own accord. Happy Mother's Day and thanks for blogging. I learn a lot from you.