Parenting: The Eternal Battle

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The war rages on! Although some days as the parent we feel as if we have lost the battle of the wills, our hope is that we will eventually win the war! Our stay-at-home-dad shares his views on how the battle of the wills becomes stronger and harder to beat as his girls grow-up!  

 

By Louis Rees

The Battle

More and more it seems to me as if raising children is a constant battle of wills. As they grow and develop further, their ability to communicate and express their wants and needs seems to increase at an bewildering pace. Though this is obviously a natural and vital process, it also seems to forebode a future war that will only escalate with time. With two girls, I’m beginning to fear a teenage future filled with terrors I can’t hope to imagine.

I am, of course, talking about balancing the desires of your children with your own parenting responsibilities. If given the choice, mine would eat chocolate and sweets ad infinitum. They’d skip dinner and baths, and going to bed would be completely out of the question. They’d spend all day staring at a television or a hand-held computer device playing games full of princesses, ponies and Peppa Pig. Being that we’re trying our best to be good parents, all these things must be moderated and controlled. It’s in their best interest, of course. What do they know, they’re just kids!

Still, they don’t know this. All they know is that you’ve got the thing they happen to want this second, and you’re stopping them from having it. It’s sometimes quite magical to watch the series of tactics play in sequence, as their tiny developing psychology does its best to convince you around to their point of view. My littlest is quite limited in choices of course. Her tactic mostly revolves around screaming and crying, with intermittent begging, followed with more frenzied breakdown tantrums but she will sometimes play the cute card. I guess we’ve fallen for that one enough for her to be aware that it can work. It’s amazing the effect your children can have on you, turning an anger filled event of a broken lamp to an almost endearing moment with a simple laugh and smile. What was my wife thinking anyway, buying glass lamps for the bedroom and putting them at children hight? Their destruction was almost an inevitability.

The change of strategy while on the front lines

My oldest is more advanced with her tactics, mostly due to her continued mastery of the English language. She now “wants” things, and “needs” things. Her tummy can now be “hungry”, she always wants “just one more”, and she can say “please” over and over. If her constant nagging isn’t successful, she can fall back on more traditional tactics, mainly consisting of being in a bad mood. She’ll mope around the place, maybe skulk off to her bedroom, or bury her head under a pillow. She’ll be sure to make you aware, she’s not happy. She wanted that “thing”, and it’s so unfair that I stopped her.

Her attempts can now also have an element of negotiation. Sure, she’s aware that we’ve got to leave the park soon, but she just wants five more minutes. She doesn’t have a clue how long that duration is however, she’s just learned that it can buy her some more time. Sure enough, when the five minutes is up, she’s now asking for just two more minutes. This battle of wills seems to have no end.

Of course we’ve developed a vast arsenal of weapons and tactics in our ongoing war.  From my conversations with other parents it seems pretty clear that everyone has their own methods to deal with their own kids. At the end of the day, you’ve got to go with what works as each and every child is different and unique.

Perhaps the most effective, and most common, is the threat of bed. Some people call it a time out, but it’s effectively the same. If our kids are screaming and crying for whatever reason and it looks like it’s not going to stop any time soon, they get warned. You better stop that, or you’re going to bed. In line with our mantra of consistency, we’ve done it enough times to prove to them that we mean business. If a couple of warnings isn’t enough, or they’ve proper got themselves into a frenzy (we like to call it “going irrational”), I’ll start going through the motions of taking them to bed. More often than not, the sudden realization that they are about to be put to bed will trigger an immediate reaction, and they’ll suddenly stop crying. Sometimes though, this is just another one of their clever little tactics, and they’ll soon be back to crying again. At this point, they’ve sealed their fate, and it’s off to bed with you! After all, if they are just going to spend their time crying, they can do so in their bedroom, where it’s a slightly more bearable. Sometimes the crying is because they’re tired and not even aware, and they’re quickly asleep.

Another successful tactic is using them against each other. Sometimes, when one of them is in a mood and doesn’t want whatever it is you’re trying to give them, be it food or drink, or some sort of toy, it can work wonders to then offer it to the other. “Oh, you don’t want this?  Maybe I should give it to your sister instead?” It’s amazing how quickly a child can change their mind and want something that seconds before they were throwing on the floor, when presented with the possibility that their sibling will get it instead. I realized the effectiveness of this tactic from observing lots of children playing together. A deserted and rejected toy seems to become immediately desirable the moment one of them picks it up. Don’t ask me why, I’m not a psychologist. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

My final tactic is very effective on my smallest, and yet almost completely useless on my oldest.  I like to think of it as the tactic of denial. The time it is used most is bedtime, when she is resisting the whole idea of sleep. First I make it clear, and ask her if she is going to sleep.  Obviously, the answer is a resounding “no”. “Well you won’t be needing these then,” and I go to take her beloved toys out of the room with me. This presents her with a choice, bed without toys, or bed with toys. It’s almost as if you are highlighting that there is a worse outcome than just going to bed, and more often than not she will try to stop you from leaving. I then ask, “are you going to sleep then?” and if she agrees and calms down, she gets her toys back.

Of course, this tactic doesn’t go without its risks. Sometimes she will outright refuse, leaving me with my mantra of consistency to go through with my threat and leave with the toys. This can lead to an even bigger meltdown. But I’ve found that coming back and asking calmly if she is going to sleep will eventually lead to capitulation, and the return of her toys. Though as effective as it currently is, I’m starting to feel that it won’t last forever. She’s wising up to my methods.

This tactic also extends to times when either of them outright refuse something. More often than not it’s because they don’t want that particular thing. They wanted juice, not water. So, I’ll say “there is only water, you don’t want it?” Of course, they don’t want it, they want juice, and reject it again. “Oh OK then, no water,” and go to take it away. Again they are presented with the reality, either water or nothing. Juice just isn’t in the equation. They almost always change their mind, if not immediately then after a short space of time.  It’s better to have something than nothing.

Can we actually win?

I dread to think of the evolution of this war as time passes. They’re only going to get smarter and faster as time goes by, while I’m now on the downward slope into middle age. Can anyone be expected to actually control these little humans? Or should I be resolved to try to get them pointed in the right direction before they overwhelm my meager defenses? I’m constantly told “just wait until they are teenagers”, and that they’ll have me wrapped around their little fingers.

Worst of all, part of me knows I was destined to lose this war before it even started.

 

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