When The Kids Won't Listen ...by Bill Knell
Are you about to drive a nail into your head? Have the kiddies made you so crazy that you've asked your partner to smack you right between the eyes with a baseball bat? Hey, with seven children of my own, I have been there! Before you loose what's left of your sanity, let me offer a few suggestions.
Whether you have one child or many, they can make your life a living nightmare if you don't get to the root cause of the problem and lay down some ground rules for the household. Let's start by looking at what the problem isn't. The kids aren't being jerks because you are married, single, divorced or remarried. Despite what many so called experts tell you, most children develop their own agenda based on their own needs.
Trying to reason with children is ridiculous and comes from the failed theory that we, as parents, have let them down in some way. If you find yourself in a situation that may be less then desirable for your child, explain it to them. This might be a need to move, divorce, remarriage or the presence of a step parent. Let your child know that you love them and really care about them, but never apologize for your family situation. Never tell kids, "Dad and I are getting a divorce, but we want you to know that it's not your fault." Just the use of the word 'fault' and the inclusion of the child in the process, immediately has the opposite affect intended. Make sure that you explain any new or expected change to your family situation to your child or children as far in advance as possible. This fosters trust and helps reassure them.
Children should never be made to feel guilty for whatever situation the family finds itself in. Most kids act out because parents knowingly or unknowingly place guilt on them. Why? Because kids aren't emotionally prepared or able to deal with guilt. Making children feel bad for no reason is a losing situation. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't be held responsible for bad acts. If your child does something that injures another, destroys or does damage to your home, endangers their own welfare or shows severe disrespect for an adult, there should be consequences. Those consequences should always include a specific punishment that lasts for a specific period of time.
My older son had a bad habit of not checking in with me and staying out past whatever time I told him to be home. Given the problem of child abductions, I always insist on knowing where my kids are and limit their ability to be anywhere by themselves. When he was eleven years old, my son went over to play with a friend on a Saturday morning. I knew where he was and had the phone number to his friend's house. But when my son hadn't checked in with us by four o'clock in the afternoon, I called his friend only to find that he had left hours before. Given that, my wife and I set out to find him and spent the next several hours frantically looking for him.
Finally, just as we were about to involve the Police, my son walked in the door at nearly eight thirty in the evening. He explained how that he had joined in with another group of friends to play some football and lost track of time. That incident upset the entire family and, needless to say, could have ended very differently. As a result, I grounded my son for three months. Why so harsh? Because he had been late before and I knew that he was putting his own life and well being in jeopardy by engaging in this sort of behavior. He learned his lesson and never failed to check in with me after that. Most missing kids are missing either because their parents allowed them to freely roam the streets or they failed to listen to their parents and be where they were supposed to be. Setting limits can avoid tragedy.
The biggest need most kids have is for a portion of your time. Not giving it to them is a certain recipe for bad behavior. If you will not give them your time and attention, they will do something bad to get it. Once you allow some time for a child, see what interests them the most. Some children are readers, others like to draw and all like to play. Being a Speaker, I have spent a lot of time on the road. When I was home, I made sure to involve my kids in everything I did. I bought a huge bin of play blocks and placed it in my home office for my younger children. They were always welcome to come in and play while I worked. I encouraged my older kids to answer the phone and help send faxes. Sure, it made things a bit harder for me, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
The greatest problem that parents face today is deciding how much they love their children. Sound strange? Loving your kids means having to give up a certain things in favor of raising happy and healthy individuals. If you love yourself more then your kids, get ready for a rough ride. I have met more then just a few parents who hand their kids a key to the house, order a pizza, throw them a c-note and head out for a skiing weekend. Others move from relationship to relationship with absolutely no interest in how it may affect their children. Loving your kids doesn't mean having to give up everything, never going out or having no love life. But it does require that you provide them with as stable an environment as possible and take them into consideration when you make personal or family decisions.
Stability means responsibility. Allowing children to be by themselves for extended periods of time is a formula for disaster. While it might seem fun to them at first, most will grow to resent it and try and get back at you by getting in trouble. If you're the kind of parent that still acts as though they had no children or are reliving your teen years, don't bother wondering why your kids have problems. Refusing to be a responsible parent has nothing to do with being married, single, divorced, separated or remarried. Those are your choices and you have the right to make them. What it does mean is that you will be there when they need you, dispense reasonable punishment when it's required and make time for them. If both parents are present in the home, they should always present a united front when dealing with their children. Problems begin when parents fight in front of the kids, disagree with each other on privileges for them or allow unacceptable behavior to go unpunished.
If you have problem kids or kid problems, it may be because you do not spell out what household opportunities are privileges to be earned, and which are merely a part of living in the home. In our house privileges are watching TV or videos, going on the computer, being allowed outside to play and being taken out to the movies, a restaurant, the library or other entertainment. Houses Rules include no fighting, mutual respect, chores to be done and obeying parents. If the rules get broken, privileges are cut back or discontinued for a period of time. We help our kids to learn responsibility by assigning chores and never asking them to do anything we haven't done or aren't willing to do ourselves. When it's time to clean the house, we all chip in and get the job done.
It's disturbing to see children who are allowed to run wild with no expectation of responsibility from them. Irresponsible kids often have irresponsible parents. Part of being responsible means teaching kids to be good neighbors and being a good neighbor yourself. I am glad that my kids go up to the neighbors and offer to help when furniture needs to be moved, a dog is lost and needs to found or when a babysitter is needed. This doesn't mean that I haven't had to break up free for alls when the kids go at it! Nobody's perfect and any parent can expect their fair share of trouble when it comes to dealing with children.