Kids in general do best with two things: A) rules and structure and B) the ability to be in control themselves. Ah, how can that be, you might ask? How can I, as a parent, give them rules and structure AND let them have control? The trick is, my friends, to only SEEMINGLY let them have control; you are actually the one guiding the way. (This is another one of those parenting mind tricks we learn as we go, just like how they think you can read their minds and tell the future when in actuality it is just that we know them so well, we can predict exactly how they will react and respond in pretty much every situation.)
How, you may ask, is this situation of contradictions even possible?
A couple of suggestions:
-You’re controlling the options so give them two options to chose from (and you’re actually okay with both options). Do you want to get dressed before we eat breakfast or after you pack your lunchbag into your backpack? Do you want to straighten your room before you have a snack or after? Do you want to help me fix the salad, set the table, or clean up after dinner? Do you want to go shopping for new pants before we go to the park or after? The key to success is to honestly be okay with either option, and let them pick. Don’t dictate, otherwise it defeats the purpose of giving them a choice in the first place.
-Make it a game or a contest. At our house, anything that is a contest is automatically fun and all of the boys will be up for with full enthusiasm. They are constantly trying to one-up each other; you’d be surprised how often the youngest wins the contests, too.
-Consistency, consistency, consistency. Don’t let them stay up late one night and then make them go to bed at 1930 the next. Your kids will appreciate the routine, and the more you stick to it, the more they will appreciate it. Beyond the routine, saying yes to wearing flipflops to school one day, and then cracking down on it the next will confuse your kids and they won’t know which way is the right option. At the same time, from authority figure to authority figure (read: parent to parent), adhere to the same rules. Don’t let there be one set of rules for Mom and one for Dad. Again, confusing and opening the door to rebelling and, maybe worse, allowing the child to start dictating the rules, or working one parent against the other. With consistent enforcement of what you want (i.e. your rules), very quickly your kids will start doing as you want without even thinking about it; it will just be automatic behavior.
-Mirror what you say. Do as you say, and your kids can mimic your behaviors as well as your words. If you are saying one thing and doing another, well, then expect your kids to have the same inconsistent adherence to your directions.
-Developing skills. Kids aren’t born as great decision makers. In fact, this is very much a skill that we have to learn and develop. By allowing your kids to do this very thing – decide between options, weighing pros and cons, and quickly figuring out what works best for them – you are setting them up for future successes. Decision making skills are important throughout life, and being able to decide something quickly and firmly is imperative to successful navigation of negative factors like peer pressure. How so? Because your child will be able to know what works best for them, and then stick to their decision rather than bend to the will of the potential negative influencers.
Even as my kids get older and (gulp!) enter teen years, I find that routines help ease a lot of parenting and teen angst. Knowing what to expect, knowing the parameters wherein one can operate, knowing the boundaries .. this all helps. And when kids know their limits, and aren’t constantly wondering just how far they can go (or push), they can enjoy the freedom. Even better, they won’t hear ‘no’ as often, so win-win for all involved. Kids who grow up with regular routines and boundaries do better in school, are better with unexpected changes (read: international moves like those we regularly complete as expats/diplomats), and are less stressed because they know what to expect. No one likes to live with a bunch of unknowns.