Giving up, Giving in

Author: Dr. Betty Richardson

Q. I’m worried I give in too often to my children. Maggie, our four-year-old, cries, begs and pleads to “watch a little more TV” when I tell her it’s time to turn it off. Megan, nine, screams and yells at me wanting to stay up when I tell her it’s time to go to bed. Andy, our teenager, wanted an iPhone and drove me crazy with his persistent arguments for one. We needed the money for other things but I gave in and bought it for him. Why can’t I stand firm and say “no?” My husband is upset with me for frequently giving-in to our kids. What suggestions do you have to help me stop letting our children rule the household?

A. Insight into why you are giving-in to your children could help motivate you to stop. It’s common today for parents to give in to kids to keep them from throwing fits, verbally abusing their parents or to just make them happy. By demanding more and more of parents, kids are testing their limits and need to find their boundaries. Pediatrician Y. Aron Kaweblum, M.D. FAAP, says that, “Too many parents today are cry stoppers, making decisions on their child’s care, health and well-being based solely on a desire to make their child happy and appease him immediately.” He suggests we expect more from our children who will, in return, expect more from themselves.

1. Generate household rules for everything that seems to provide a chance for argument from children, e.g., bedtime rules. Have all rules in writing and discuss the list with your children.

2. Ask yourself, when tempted to give in: Is it good for the child for me to give in (probably not)? What will this teach my child (crying, fussing, persistent insistence brings rewards)? Would my child learn her limits if I don’t give in (most probably)? Can I devise an interesting or innovative way to get the child to do what I want without a fuss?

3. Be in control without being controlling. Give your child the opportunity to make the right decision when possible.

4. Offer rewards and choices for good behavior. Positive reinforcement always works better than punishment.

5. When children want something you can’t afford, help them realize the actual cost in terms of how many weeks of their allowance it would take to buy this item and ask them to save for the things they really want. This helps children learn to accept the idea of delayed gratification, which is something that they will have to deal with the rest of their lives.

Something I keep in the back of my mind is: don’t reward bad behavior. Children can learn from bad behavior but it’s seldom, if ever, good in the long run to be rewarded for crying, fussing and throwing a fit to get their own way.

Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.

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