Chaos is how I’d describe an average weekday morning in our house and yet the chaos has become our normal. We each have our jobs and the sequence of events is predictable. Some mornings we manage to do it better than others and get out of the house with a little extra time. But almost every morning I hear frustration in my husband’s voice as he throws his hands up in the air before muttering to me “Can you tell them to finish getting dressed? They never listen to me”. On any given morning it may not be about the kids getting dressed. It may be finishing their breakfast or brushing their teeth but he often feels like he’s talking to the walls instead of fully functioning and capable human beings. One day it hit me that the problem wasn’t them, it was him. The problem is that he rarely follows through when he asks them to do things.
Following through is a simple idea but it takes a conscious effort. If you ask your children to get dressed you have to make sure they’re doing it. If I’m the who’s making sure their bodies are clothed, I ask them to go choose their clothes and point them in the direction of their rooms. Then a few minutes later I go in to make sure they’re on task. If not, I remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing and then give them a deadline “I’m coming back in 2 minutes, I want to see the clothes you’ve picked and underwear on your body.” and then I go back in 2 minutes to make sure it’s happening. When my husband has the same task he gives them the initial instruction (“Time to get dressed”) but that’s it. He gets busy getting ready himself, time passes and he realizes the kids haven’t left their rooms and then finds them happily playing. To be fair they’re only 5 & 7 years of age but he finds it frustrating.
Once I realized this was the fundamental issue between why the kids seem to listen to me and not him it made me start thinking about the big picture, because to me it’s really not about having children who listen. It’s about having children who know you’re true to your word. You say what you mean and you mean what you say.
When I tell them we won’t be able to go to the park if they aren’t ready by a certain time, I mean it.
When I say that homework has to be finished if they want to watch a tv show before their bath at 7:00pm, I mean it.
When I tell them I’m sorry after losing my temper, I mean it.
When I tell them I won’t share their secrets with anyone else, I mean it.
And when I hug them tight and tell them I love them, I mean it.
My kiddos trust what I tell them is true, because I prove the veracity of my words to them in many different ways each day. It makes them feel safe and provides the stability they need to flourish as individuals.
So what does following through look like? The key is being specific about your expectations, giving your little people the opportunity to do what you’ve asked on their own and then making sure it’s done. I described an example of how I get them dressed in the mornings, but not everything has to be time driven. At the end of the day I’ll assign individual tasks to get the house tidied up (1 person puts all the toys back in the playroom, one person collects all the clothes off the floor and puts them in the laundry, etc.) and then do a walk through afterwards to see that they’ve done it. Granted, they need reminders of where to look for the clothes “Did you check your sister’s room upstairs?” and reminders to keep them focused “You can play with the dolls tomorrow. Please finish putting them in the doll bin” but in following through, it all gets done. Another example is being at a restaurant when my 3 year old is screaming so I let her know that if she isn’t able to use a quieter voice we’ll have to go outside until she’s ready to use an inside voice. And then we do exactly that if she continues to yell. Just this afternoon my littlest spilled crayons on the floor (on purpose) so I asked her to pick them up. She squatted down on the floor and stared up at me without moving. I stood there for a couple minutes waiting to see if she’d start on her own and when she didn’t, I squatted down beside her and took her hand in mine helped her get started. Once the first one was done she continued on her own while I held the container for her.
Following through has its drawbacks, let’s be honest. It takes an effort to stay on top of kids. It takes self-discipline to say no instead of yes when you know it would make them oh-so-happy to do something even though they didn’t complete the task that was required. There will be times when the consequence of their behaviour has a negative impact on you too like when you really need to pick something up from the store and the kids’ behaviour isn’t appropriate (mine like to run down ailes. sigh.) so if they aren’t able to meet the expectation after they’ve been reminded of the rule, you leave. And sometimes it makes you the bad guy, which for some parents is the hardest role of all.
For me, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks because my children have learned that I mean what I say. I’m not talking about obedience. Yes, it’s great that I don’t have to shout or get angry for them to listen to me but what I keep thinking about is the type of relationship I want to have with my monkeys as they get older. They are going to start exploring the world without me by their side and they are going to be influenced by people I don’t know and can’t control. I feel like those years will be the ones that really need a relationship based on the kids knowing exactly where things stand and them knowing they can trust what I tell them. Everyone gets themselves into situations where they need guidance, but not every child has a relationship where they feel safe enough to share it with their parents. That future relationship is far more important to me than getting them dressed for school and yet the foundation we’re laying each morning now is what will get us there.