I have 2 boys, ages 9 and 6. The youngest one is who I am asking about. He
is incredibly head strong and difficult to get to do things that he
doesn’t want to do. His brother is quite the opposite. I have found that
letting him have more control helps, but how much is too much? Do I let
him choose when to go to bed? Where is that magical line between letting
him have some control and mass chaos? He is also very temperamental so it
is easy to enter into a battle with him!
As I was venting over the frustration of one of my head strong children to my friend one day, she said “They say that the traits that irritate you while they are young are the traits that will best serve them in adult life.” I love a good dose of optimism, but when my kid is annoying me, I am not thinking about how it benefits them…at all.
However, it’s true. Most of us want our kids to think for themselves, to speak for themselves, and to make well thought out decisions based on how they feel. We give them responsibility so they learn how to be confident, independent thinkers, who can survive without us, but we also must teach them limits and boundaries so they know where they stand.
Teaching those boundaries is just as critical as letting them choose their successes and mistakes. We have seemed to quickly turn into a society that has forgotten that one of the most valuable lessons we can teach our kids is to respect authority and the limits that go with respecting that authority. In an effort to have law abiding citizens, our kids need to learn that rules are meant to protect us and serve us, not be flexible to our whims and desires. In our homes, we, the parents are the authority and our limits are non negotiable, they are the law.
Bedtime is a law created to benefit their health. The human body needs a certain amount of hours of sleep to function at its optimum level. Our job as parents is to keep our kids healthy, so a bed time is chosen to allow them the opportunity to sleep for as long as their bodies need. We can not force them to sleep, but we can give them a bedtime which is consistent and non negotiable ensuring their health and wellbeing. (and ours- post bedtime is ME time in our house and my ME time is equally important for their health and wellbeing) If they choose not to sleep, they will live with the consequences of lack of sleep. And yes, that sucks for us too, but they figure it out. When they’re tired, they’ll sleep. I have one of those and it can be torture. The only thing that helps is my consistency and non negotiable rules…and a ridiculous amount of patience.
Since so much of parenting is trial and error, the answer of how much control do we let them have versus mass chaos will come with experience. For example, if you let your child dictate how and when they do their homework, but you learn that they aren’t getting it done “their way,” you establish rules and guidelines of how and when homework must be done. For example, homework is done before TV or computer use, etc. If it’s not done within your rules, then relative consequences go into effect and remain consistent until the behavior is changed.
As for being temperamental, it goes with the personality territory of the strong willed child. It’s so important for kids to learn how to express how they are feeling, but its also important for them to learn how to manage those feelings appropriately. When kids express their anger aggressively, we need to teach them it is okay to be angry and frustrated, but it is not okay to express their anger in negative and aggressive ways. And when they do, relative consequences apply.
So the magical line is where ever we draw it. We establish rules and laws for a reason and most of them are designed to support and protect them. Until they are officially their own protector, those rules and laws are ones they are required to live by while we care for them. We allow them flexibility to grow within our laws and rules, not outside of them.