I read some good advice today: “Pick your battles and win the ones you pick.” There are two good parenting principles in here and I think they apply equally to all age groups. The latter of the two principles is to win the battles you pick which simply means if you are going to say “No” in the store and allow your child to whine their way into your wallet, you are teaching them an important lesson namely, dad has a limit to his resolve. You don’t want the kids to find that limit. Guard it at all costs.
The first principle in this pithy little statement is to pick your battles. We know to do this. A good spouse will often weigh the benefits and potential injuries involved in raising and pressing an issue with their partner. You do this at work too. And you do this with your kids. The problem, I think, is that we are still picking too many battles, and we need to make sure that if we start something we take it through to the end. Here are some of my thoughts on which battles we need to think carefully about.
Pick your battles and win the ones you pick.
The first battle I would bring to your attention is the follow-through-on-discipline battle. Here I want to simply point something out – consequences cost everyone not just the person who committed the crime. If you take away trampoline time, you will potentially have a bored kid on your hands and that will cost you. If you send a child to their room, they won’t be with you and that will cost you. If you take away video games for a month, I promise you will experience some ill effects. Some of this can be avoided if you make the discipline fit the behaviour. Grounding kids for the upcoming weekend doesn’t make any sense if they are messing around on Monday, the consequence needs to be closer to be real. And taking away screen time for a month for a misdemeanor like spraying toothpaste on the mirror, intentionally, really doesn’t drive home any behaviour modifying point. (I mean seriously, is this a recurring issue? Or a one time spraying spree?)
But if you dish the discipline, you need to follow through so make the discipline workable for everyone involved. This first battle is one of your own making in many ways.
The next battle comes with a story. When we had our first boy one of my youth leaders saw him with his blankie and proudly proclaimed that HER children NEVER had a security blanket, or stuffy or soother. She didn’t want them to become too attached. Ok let me point out a few things. First, YOU, YES YOU, as a parent still have “security blankets.” It could be cookie dough ice cream, or falling asleep with the TV on because the house is too quiet otherwise, or buying stuff. The point is not to keep our kids from finding things that help them soothe themselves, their kids! They need to be soothed. The point is to help them make healthy choices to soothe themselves. And guess what? A soother isn’t a bad thing. Sucking is a soothing sensation for babies. Yes, I get it, at 8 the thumb sucking needs to stop, but very few children (that I know of) have experienced permanent damage from having a soother as a baby or a blanket into even elementary school.
I’m not convinced that fighting the “security blanket” battle is all that worthwhile.
The no electronics battle. What do you do when your child sacrifices and manages to save up enough birthday money and couch cushion change to buy their own iPod? Our kids were both 7 when they reached that incredible goal. I had made it clear that I was not getting them something that expensive at their age, but they really wanted on and they didn’t buy a lot of Lego along the way. I’m not saying that we should let our children make foolish choices and I’m not saying a 7-year-old needs an iPod or the like, but what I am saying is if they have the discipline to save their money towards a goal, we should let them! Clearly they weren’t going to be texting on it, they just wanted it for games, a bit of music and taking pictures (loads of STUPID pictures.)
We live in an age of technology and it isn’t bad, in fact, much technology is wonderful we just need to be wise about how we let our kids use it. But we should let them use it! Plus they just literally bought the most powerful disciplinary device a parent could ask for!
Finally, when your kids get older, be careful not to keep them from their good friends. I think all kids struggle to make good friends, I did and our kids have as well, so when they do make a couple of really good connections, you want to do what you can to help them maintain those friendships. There a lots of differences between age groups here, but once your child hits middle school, if they have a best friend and want to spend time with them, make sure you carve out ways for that to happen. Our 13-year-old is into air softing. For those of you who don’t know, air softing is shooting each other with plastic pellets. It’s ridiculous. Malachi has this friend who has a really cool dad who even has his own air soft gun and plays with the kids when they are battling it out. I should say that as therapeutic as I would find shooting my kid for fun, I’m just not that big a fan of being hurt, so I’m not going to invest my money there. But do I care if that’s all Malachi thinks about? Not at all! If he wants every Christmas and birthday present to go to building his arsenal of weaponry I’m all for it – because his air softing buddies are great kids and I want to do what I can to help them stay friends.
Boys Malachi’s age (and younger) tend to organize themselves according to affinity – things they like to do and there could be WAY worse things for them to do together. Girls on the other hand tend to organize themselves into friendships by proximity – they like other girls they can feel emotionally close to. Whether you have a son or a daughter, help them to make great, close friends that share your family values. And don’t turn those friendships into a point of tension! They WILL want to spend more time with friends as they grow older and that is actually good, encourage it and be very, very careful about using their friendships as tools for discipline.
The long and short of it is to think carefully about what you wrestle with your kids about. One of the best things you can do for your kids at any age is to consider your yes to no ratio. Try to find ways to say “yes” more often than “no” you will be amazed at what it does for your family!
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