Almost every week I see a child in my office with a pair of funky boots on. The boots are usually rubber with easy to pull handles. The toes are decorated with a face of an animal – perhaps a duck, frog or ladybug. The day might be bright and sunny, but the child comes clomping into the room with their rubber boots proudly on their feet. I often ask them “What’s with those boots?” To which the mother sheepishly responds, “She wants to wear them everyday and I just don’t want to battle her.” The fact of the matter is that all parents have to choose their battles and there are some battles just not worth fighting.
So how should parents choose their battles? We all know, as parents, we have to confront our children over a number of issues. Too many parents feel like they are battling their children all day. How do we know when to put our foot down and when to let them wear their boots? The answer is somewhat personal. It depends to some degree what is truly important to the parent. But as a young pediatrician, I was taught that there were some guidelines about battling with children. As I became a parent, I found that these guidelines were helpful. Here are those guidelines and some others I have added.
1. You cannot control whether your child eats or not. You can control what food is put on the table. A child can be given a choice before the meal such as “Do you want PB & J or Tuna fish for lunch?” Once a choice is made stick with it. The child can eat or not eat!
2. You cannot control your child’s choice of friends. You can control how much time those friends spend at your house. Children often choose friends that are unlike themselves. You may consider them a “bad influence”. But you cannot impose control over your child’s choice. You will be very frustrated if you try to choose your child’s friends. You should only control what you can – perhaps the time available outside of school for your child to be with that friend.
3. You cannot make your child go to sleep. But you can establish and control a bedtime. Many children are made to be in bed but stay awake for a time before drifting off to sleep. Your job as a parent is to enforce the time for your child to be in bed. Your child can choose between being awake and going to sleep.
4. All parents need to win the battles over safety. Kids cannot run out into the street, must wear seatbelts and ride bikes with helmets on. Safety is the area where parents have a right to battle their kids.
5. Hygiene is another worthwhile battle. Baths need to be taken, hands washed, teeth brushed and noses left alone – at least in public.
6. Choice of clothing is a famous morning battle. Clothes should be put out the night before. But as with the choice of foods, once the clothes are put out, don’t open the choices up for debate again. The child can choose between the two sets put out the night before and only those two sets. To force a choice, move to the next phase of the morning – breakfast or even leaving the house. Many children need to finalize their choice for clothes in the car!
7. Parents often feel pressured into battles because of time. We know that deadlines exist but kids don’t care. So when we want to get our kids ready, we often pressure them to dress, eat, and get their things ready. Of course as they resist our pressure, we get more upset. The key is not to pressure the kids because of our time consciousness. Just be clear on what they need to do, give five minute warnings for each step they need to make, and set a “drop dead time” when – ready or not – half dressed or partially fed – you are out the door! The next days you will see more cooperation during your 5 minute warning periods.
The major issue with the battles we have with our children is that parents may sense a loss of control. If you are feeling controlled by your child over an issue, then you need to decide what your child has control of and what you need to control. You control the choice of foods; your child controls how much they eat. You control the choice of clothes; your child chooses between the two sets in the morning. You set the bedtime; your child decides to sleep or not. By allowing your child some sense of control then you can be better choosing your battles. And then it might be okay if your child chooses her boots everyday too!