Parenting: Less is More

No one likes being lectured. But sometimes as parents we fall into the trap of believing that more words will get our point across more effectively. For example, the other morning I asked my daughter to go pick up her room – and like any typical 9-year-old she was super put out by the request. As she huffed off towards her bedroom my husband Steve couldn’t help himself…he had to add in a “lesson” as to why it is important to keep her room clean, that it is her responsibility, and if she just picked up as she went she wouldn’t be in this situation. Well, as you might imagine, it was like pouring gasoline on a fire. She shot back with a snarky remark, which set him off, which sent the whole situation spiraling downwards.

Can you relate? Your child gives you an attitude and you make a remark about it. They regret their decision and you add an “I told you so.” Or you make a request, and then you over-explain your reasoning behind it. Too often we think more is well…more.

But the truth is lecturing, adding onto a situation, or justifying our position is ineffective. Piling on with words works against us because it leaves children feeling defensive and resistant. The irony is that the words we use that we intend to teach a lesson actually take our children away from what they are presently learning as a result of their own discomfort.

Instead of lecturing, try these three techniques that allow you to say less but with greater effect:

SAY IT ONCE AND WALK AWAY

Nagging, coaxing, and constant reminding actually teaches children they do not have to listen the first time, and someone else will take responsibility for them. Whether it is picking up, doing homework, or taking the dog for a walk – make the expectation clear and then trust that they will do it. They may not move as fast as you want, they may drag their feet, they may even fail to get it done – but using more words simply adds frustration to a difficult situation. You may need to spend some time refining expectations ahead of time. For example: when homework is complete then you may watch TV, or when your room is clean then you may go play outside with your friends. When you refuse to coax them along you remove the drama that often leads to more distraction. You teach children that you mean what you say and that you have confidence in them that they are fully capable of living up to expectations. 

LET THEM HAVE THE LAST WORD

When we ask kids to do something very often we don’t just have an expectation of WHAT they need to do, but HOW they should do it. When we ask them to clean their room we want them to say “Sure thing! Right away!” and get started immediately with a bright and sunny attitude. But as parents we need to let go of the expectation of attitude without compromising on the expectation of responsibility. Does it really matter if they vacuum angry or happy? Do they have approach homework with enthusiasm and gratitude? Often children will express their displeasure at having to do something they are not inclined to do – and we feel the need to correct or comment. Instead, let them have the last word (it’s harder than you might imagine!) As long as they get the task done, give them the freedom to be as miserable or grouchy as they want. If you’re really stressed out about it then put on some headphones or leave the room.

ACT, DON’T TALK

Kids can keep us busy with them by arguing or bargaining. Once you have made the expectations clear and let them know what needs to happen, you have the right to expect their cooperation. If they argue or ignore, rather than badgering them, simply do what needs to be done. If they won’t stop watching TV, turn it off and take the remote (without saying anything). If they need to walk the dog, hand them the leash (without saying anything). If it is time to leave the park, take their hand or pick them up (you guessed it…without saying anything). Respectful action without disrespectful words communicates mutual respect. You respect them enough not to jab or nag, and you expect them to respect you by following through with what needs to be done. 

Using less words does not guarantee immediate results, but it does teach children over the long-term that expectations are to be taken seriously and they are capable of being responsible for their actions. In the short-term it will be uncomfortable as you navigate the new normal, but overtime you will find yourself arguing less and acting with confidence. 

How might you try using less words this week?