Editor's note: This is the first column by Amy Cook, a mother of five who will be writing weekly about family relationships.
By AMY OSMOND COOK, Ph.D./ FOR THE REGISTER
"I am NOT going to running today!" my 12-year-old son declared. "My knee hurts, and I want to play soccer."
He slammed the bathroom door and turned on the shower to emphasize his point. With this particular child, "my knee hurts" really means, "I don’t want to go, and I’m going to try to find a way out of it." So I stood my ground.
"Jake," I called. "You know how much better you feel when you run. You’re going. Period."
Then, for the next 10 minutes, I witnessed a master rhetorician at work. Every play in theKids’ Manual for Manipulating Your Mom was skillfully applied. First, logic was used, then bargaining. Emotional appeals to my love for him (or lack thereof) came next. Finally, he tried brute defiance, which morphed into a single tear — the appropriate amount of emotion for maximum effect. Despite being on the receiving end of this performance, I have to admit I was impressed. Nevertheless, 10 long minutes later, we were on our way to the cross country team practice.
Stubborn children are often declared "difficult" and sometimes even "troubled." But as a stubborn person myself, I try to look for the silver lining to the cloud — and that silver sparkles. Stubborn children can be challenging, but they are often leaders among their peers. They refuse to be intimidated, and they can focus like nobody’s business — which often translates into enhanced learning. When stubborn children decide to become good at something, you can almost guarantee they will succeed. Why? Because they won’t quit until they accomplish their goals.
Of course, I usually forget the benefits of stubbornness when I’m in the midst of an in-depth conversation with my daughter about why she can’t wear her church shoes to the beach. And parenting stubborn children does require some special techniques. Two major strategies are "distract" and "engage."
Distract. When you don’t have the strength or energy to fight your stubborn children head-on, you can try what Terri Cettina calls "sneaky parenting." Suddenly, picking up toys becomes a "beat-the-clock" game, setting the table becomes "being Mommy’s helper," and bath time becomes a spa with soothing music. The basic tactic is turning the day-to-day drudgery into a game.
Engage. Here’s the cold hard truth. If you want your children to view you as a legitimate authority (which gives them the security and mentoring they need to be successful in life), you have to win the stubborn game. Your children are eventually going to see through your distraction techniques, and there will come a time when you have to stand your ground. Don’t let your strong-willed children talk you into submission. That said, make sure your rules are motivated by love, not a desire to control. And choose your battles wisely.
You may not see immediate benefits from standing your ground. But if you’re lucky, your children will let you know that you’re on the right track. For instance, after running, Jake bounded into the car with a big smile.
"Hi, Mom," he beamed.
"How do you feel?" I asked.
"Great!" he said. "You know, you were right."
And that was all I needed.
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