It’s easy to fall into the trap of demanding and threatening as a parent – especially when you want your child to get something done quickly. “If you don’t clean your room right now, you can forget about playing on the IPOD for the rest of the day.” Or “If you don’t finish your chores in the next 30 minutes you’re not going to have any friends over today.” Or finally, “I am sick and tired of you leaving your stuff all over the kitchen. If it isn’t cleaned up in 10 minutes you are going to be grounded!”
When parents set limits in the ways just described, the focus is placed on the negative things that will or will not happen if the child doesn’t comply with the orders given. The child is then left thinking about how mean and tyrannical the adult is. In some cases a child may actually decide to be defiant, not because they are unwilling to clean up after themselves and do chores, but because they feel disrespected by the way the adult has asked them to do something.
With a small change in the way a parent phrases a limit, the parent can place the focus on the positive things that can happen when the child is compliant rather than the negative things that will occur if the child is not. For example, rather than saying, “If you don’t clean your room right now, you can forget about playing on the IPOD for the rest of the day,” you can try, “you can play on the IPOD today as long as your room gets cleaned in the next 30 minutes.” Instead of saying, “If you don’t finish your chores in the next 30 minutes you’re not going to have any friends over today,” you could say, “friends can come over today as long as your chores are done by noon.” And finally, in place of, “I am sick and tired of you leaving your stuff all over the kitchen. If it isn’t cleaned up in 10 minutes you are going to be grounded!” you could try, “sweetheart, it seems like your stuff gets left in the kitchen a lot. I’ll tell you what. I figure if you spend the whole day cleaning with me, it will help you remember how to keep the kitchen clean. Or you could show me you already know how by getting your stuff cleaned up within the next ten minutes. Personally I would rather spend the whole day cleaning with you, but it’s your choice.”
In general, parents find that their kids have a much better attitude about cleaning up when they place the focus on the good things what will happen if their child cleans up rather than on the negative things that will happen if their child doesn’t. Also, when parents phrase limits this way, kids feel more respected and, in turn, tend to be more respectful to their parents.
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona. He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Institute.
He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculum, classes for parents of children with ADHD, step-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents. He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona