Monthly Archives: April 2010

Say “yes” when you can

I heard a wonderful phrase recently that I thought I would share. If you keep this phrase in mind throughout the day, it will help you determine when you can choose your battles and when you must consider holiness over happiness. Here’s the phrase:

“Say ‘yes’ when you can. But say ‘no’ when you must.”

Say “yes” when you can

Many parents are too quick to say “no” to their kids, often for the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons to say “no” include:

  • You don’t want to be put out.
  • You are annoyed by the request.
  • You are in a bad mood.
  • You are holding a grudge over a previous misbehavior. (It’s up to you to wipe the slate clean if you have effectively dealt with your child’s misbehavior.)

If you say “yes” when you can, you and your child will be much happier. True, your child’s little requests might put you out a bit, but if you don’t have a good reason to deny the request, then say “yes.”

Say “no” when you must

On the other side of the parenting spectrum are parents who are reluctant to deny their children’s requests. The wrong reasons not to say “no” include:

  • You fear that the child will throw a tantrum.
  • You worry about hurting his self-esteem.
  • You fear that your child won’t like you.
  • You are afraid to assert any authority over your child

If you plan to teach your child anything of value, you must have the strength to say “no” to your child when the situation calls for it. There are many times when you must consider your child’s holiness over his happiness.

Carry this phrase with you

Even if you feel you do a good job of saying “yes” and “no” for the right reasons, keep this phrase in mind as your child gets older. Consider these circumstances:

  • Your toddler begins to show he is capable of feeding himself, so you allow him that freedom at every meal. (You say “yes.”)
  • Your preschooler gets out of bed every night one week, so you take away his freedom of reading books in bed. (You say “no.”)
  • Your school-aged child shows over a period of weeks that he can complete his homework on time, so you give him the freedom to watch 30 minutes of TV after school. (You say “yes.”)

So while this phrase will certainly help us on a day-to-day basis, it’s also an idea that we should to carry with us throughout our parenting years.

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Choose your battles

Yet again, unfortunately, life has gotten in the way of my blog posting. But now that we’re back from vacation and the taxes are done (mostly), I’m ready to get back to the blog. Today’s topic: choosing battles vs. inconsistency.

After fielding a few questions on the topic, I’ve discovered that many parents are rigid with their children for fear of being inconsistent. They believe that they need to fight every battle, lest they lose their parental authority. Let me assure you that you really can choose your battles without losing your authority.

In fact, I recommend that you choose your battles. When you fight every battle, your home becomes a war zone. Your children grow up thinking you are unfair and too strict and will start talking back just to be heard. Eventually, as they get older, they rebel just to gain a bit of freedom.

Think before you speak

The key to choosing battles is to think before you speak. If you haven’t said a word to your child about a particular behavior, then you really can choose to let it go. But once you tell your child to stop doing what he’s doing, you must follow through.

Here’s an example of how you might choose your battles without losing your authority:

Your child is pulling every book off the shelf to see which one he wants to read. The shelf is bare and the books are spread out all over the floor. The mess starts to nag at you and you’re tempted to tell your child to stop and start putting all the books back.

But you stop yourself. You realize that free playtime isn’t over yet and he really can see the books better when he spreads them out. And you always want him to read more books, so you don’t want to discourage his newfound interest in books.

So you let it go. You don’t say a word. He can clean them up when playtime is over.

Inconsistency

Here’s how the same scenario might go for a parent who is too quick to speak and ends up being inconsistent:

The set-up is the same. The child is pulling every book off the shelf and spreading them out on the floor. The mess starts to nag at you and you immediately tell your child not to make such a mess. You tell him to start putting them back. He whines and tries to state his case that he can see the books better.

So you think that maybe he’s right. Maybe it is okay that he makes a mess in free play. Besides, you really do want to encourage his interest in books. So you decide that the mess is okay. You decide that you’re just choosing your battles, and that it’s okay not to follow through.

The minute you told him to put the books back, however, you lost your opportunity to choose your battles. You gave him a command and by not following through on that command, you are being inconsistent. Choosing your battles is all about not saying anything and letting a behavior go. Once you say a word, you have chosen to fight that battle.

Being consistent and maintaining authority is all about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. So if you want to be able to choose your battles, you need to stop yourself and really think before you speak. It won’t hurt anyone if you take a few seconds. If you end up regretting what you say (which has happened to me many times), you must still follow through.

The caveat

There is one caveat to choosing your battles. If your child willfully disobeys a house rule that he knows is a rule, you can’t choose to not fight that battle. Say your child is jumping on the couch (always a no-no) and you dealt with the behavior consistently five times that day, you can’t choose to let it go the sixth time.

If you let it go the sixth time, then he will think that you really didn’t mean it those five other times. Even if the behavior continues the next day (and you’re in a better mood or you got your coffee or whatever), you must still follow through. Your child won’t respect you or your rules if you don’t enforce them.

Choosing battles is for those little things in life that nag at you but that won’t harm anything or anyone in the long run. So be sure you think before you speak and allow yourself that time to decide whether you want to fight every battle or let it go.

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