Step 1: Specify Your Expectations to Your Child (continued)
Write Well-worded Success Statements (continued)
Deal with Potential Complications
When you cannot meet all three characteristics
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to fulfill all three criteria of realistically reachable, positive, and clearly-stated standards of behavior. To illustrate, consider our previous example which began with:
Dwayne, you are successful when you don’t fight with Latisha.
Since it is unrealistic to expect Dwayne to go from 20 hassles with his sister every day to none, we modified the expectation to read:
Dwayne, you are successful when you don’t fight with Latisha for an hour.
While more realistic, this focused attention on fighting, the very behavior the parents wish to eliminate. To fix that flaw we modified the statement to read:
Dwayne, you are successful when you get along with Latisha for an hour.
With this change we defined for Dwayne realistic expectations for more positive interactions with Latisha.
But here is the rub: twelve reasonable people could have a dozen different notions about what it means to “get along with” his sister. Unfortunately, nearly any effort to define that phrase tightly is likely to rely on such notions as “don’t hit,” “don’t tease,” or “don’t argue,” all negatives. I have challenged hundreds of parents in my classes to come up with a better way to tightly define such an item and have yet to hear a good alternative.
We must conclude that we cannot always accomplish our goal of writing realistically reachable, positive, and perfectly clear goal statements. Considering that fact, use this hierarchy of standards to guide your efforts:
- It is critical that your expectations be realistically reachable,
- It is extremely important that your expectations be worded positively, and
- It is very important that the criteria of success be very clearly stated.
Avoid haggling with your child
Solid as these guidelines are, they leave a potential weakness in our system. Success statements that lack clarity tend to invite haggling and complaints, distracting parent and child from the underlying goal, for example:
I did too get along with her, but she was making faces and slid over to my side of the car so I just pushed her back on her side.
Since such complaints tend to draw focus to arguing and away from the program, never respond to or participate in haggling with your children.
Because, as attractive as this sounds, is easier to say than to accomplish, some clear guidelines are needed to help you stay out of such interactions. To avoid being sucked into haggling by children pushing the limits, be clear in your own mind about these concepts:
First, since you are more experienced than your children are, it is appropriate for you to fairly determine whether your expectations have been fulfilled.
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Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.
~Charles R. Swindoll
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Second, your judgments do not have to be perfect. If you avoid at any costs being what your children would consider “unfair,” your children will learn that with clever enough arguments you will give in. You may be especially vulnerable if you can’t put into convincing words exactly why you are saying “no.” You can be sure that far more children have suffered from parents’ unwillingness to make and stick to a firm decision than from being denied some special privilege, however dramatically they might complain at the time.
Third, respect your child’s need to understand by explaining how you made your decision, and keep clear in your mind that making a decision and sticking to it does not mean you are cavalier about your child’s feelings.
Fourth, if your child challenges your decision and you think you can explain more effectively, do so, simply and clearly.
Fifth, if your child continues to complain or haggle with you, follow this very effective guideline:
Do not explain yourself to your child more than twice unless you have a very clear reason to think that after the next explanation your child will understand and accept your decision.
Anytime you continue to respond to your child’s fussing after a second explanation it is highly likely that you have moved from providing information to offering justification to your child. Has your fussing child ever responded to one of your repeated “explanations” by saying, “Gee, Mom, now that you explain it like that I see why I shouldn’t be able to stay up until 2:00 a.m. Golly you are smart.”? If you accept that you must justify yourself to your child, you have put your child firmly in control by agreeing that your decision counts only if you can convince your child that you are correct.
Sixth, whenever your child continues to fuss and complain after you have explained sufficiently, convey this important message:
Well, Christopher, I’ve explained the best I know how and I am sorry if you don’t understand, but that’s just the way it is.
While there may be many ways to say the same thing, this wording is actually very effective and makes it clear to the child that there is no more room for discussion. Take special care to to avoid what may seem like very similar statements, such as “Because I said so” or “Because I’m the parent, that’s why.” Both statements focus on you rather than on the decision, directly challenging your child to battle for power, the opposite of your goal.
To make sure the distinction is very clear, read the statement I have suggested aloud, then compare it aloud to “Because I said so” and “Because I’m the parent, that’s why” and notice how different they sound – and even how different you feel when saying them. I recommend that you stick close to the wording shown above, at least early in your experience with this approach.