April 12, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
It’s all in how you ask for things, now isn’t it?
My youngest has recently learned that asking in French is way cuter than asking in English. Trouble is, he’s only in Kindergarden, so he doesn’t know much French. So he’s latched on to a few phrases, and paired them with his very cute face.
Anthony (reaching up with his arms): Est-ce-que tu est carry me?
He usually gets what he wants. It’s so cute. He’s taken to asking us what he’s just said.
Anthony: (Holding out his foot for help with his shoe) Tout le monde est shoe? What did I say?
Gary: You said “everyone is a cabbage”.
As a kid, it’s all in how you ask. As parents, we know it’s also all in having consistency after you ask. I’ve read about this–I was even consistent myself once for an entire month. And, I had kids that listened and did as they were asked immediately. I didn’t do anything mean or big–I was just very consistent in enforcing very small consequences.
Guess what? I didn’t like the results. Because:
1) That month sucked. I didn’t do ANYTHING ELSE but think about being consistent. It required ALL OF MY FOCUS. We ate crackers and baby carrots for every meal, we constantly looked like we’d slept in our clothes, and I didn’t sweep the floor for five weeks. You should know that normally, we do not eat crackers and baby carrots for every meal.
2) I realized that I don’t actually want kids who obey the first time. It seems unfair–it doesn’t give them a chance to put in their two cents. I also don’t want kids who are eternally two cents-ing me, though. I want kids who are free spirited and collaborative much of the time, and then obey me when I REALLY MEAN IT.
But, I don’t want my way of REALLY MEANING IT to involve yelling, nagging repeatedly, or the more realistic pattern of “Did you do as I asked? I’ve asked you TWICE now. I’m starting to feel very–hey, are those tulip shoots in the back yard?”
I have come to two conclusions:
1) Sometimes I mean it, and will follow through. Other times, I won’t.
2) Usually, the difference between the two options depends on my mood, whether I am thinking about something else, and whether there are tulips. Very random from the kids’ perspective–and not very fair.
Unfortunately, I’m hummingbirdbrained. Of course, I am steadily working on this, but the other question is “accepting this quality, how can I make it most comfortable and predictable for my kids”? And the answer is, of course, to tell them directly. When I Really Mean It, I say:
“Is it your final decision to disobey me?”
Originally, I started doing this out of consideration for my kids. Also, I wish there were someone who stood beside me and said “Is it your final decision to sign up for another committee?”. It’s nice to have your decisions reflected back to you. Sometimes.
Over time, I realized that there are some great side effects to this system:
1) It leaves room for negotiation, and differentiates between the times that something is really important, and the times that it really is just a request. Clarity is half the battle. I still remember a conversation with my first son, when he was eight. He wasn’t being remotely snotty: (Me: Why didn’t you pick up these toys like I told you to? Nathan: You said ‘do you want to pick up your toys?’ And I didn’t want to.).
2) It makes the kid’s life way more predictable.
3) I don’t have to be consistent. Well, I do, but only when I’m ready. I only utter the magical sentence if I have a consequence in mind and the resources to follow through with it. (You have to be absolutely vigilant about this, of course).
4) This really works. When I ask if it’s their final decision, it is like the imperius spell from Harry Potter. It’s eerie. This must be what being my oldest sister feels like.
Now, you may not want to use the phrase “Is it your final decision to disobey me?”. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with the whole “obey/not obey” language. I’m not. We’ve had some big talks about civil disobedience, and obedience, and I’m comfortable using those terms. I like the phrase “final decision” because it seems to lead to less of a power struggle. It acknowledges that it’s still the kid’s call, in a way that “One… Two… ” doesn’t seem to. Also, it’s harder to add “Four… Five…” to my phrase. Not impossible, of course, but you’d sound like an idiot. Which, I hear, is a deterrent to some parents.
If you like the idea but not the words, no problem. The words don’t matter. You can change it to “choose not to listen” (More politically correct, but decidedly less accurate. Eventually, your kid will be old enough to say “I listened to you fine, mom, but I have no intention of stopping climbing on the roof of the house”). You can change it to “the black crow flies at midnight”. Or, “Everyone is a cabbage”. Or “the sum of the square of the hypotenuse is the sum of the square of the other two sides” if you want to kill two birds with one stone and sneak in a little math. Doesn’t matter.
When David (grown son) is home from University, I plan on trying out the phrase “Sudo obey me”, to see if it works. If it doesn’t, I will accuse him of a weak understanding of Unix. Perhaps he will respond “I understood you fine, I just have no intention of stopping climbing on the roof of the house.”
Note: Credit to xkcd.com for the Sudo joke. My understanding of Unix is very weak.
Also, I have no intention of stopping climbing on the roof of our house.