Parenting February 2023: Finding Order with Toddlers and Teens
Living With Children by John Rosemond
"Living With Children" by John Rosemond
February 2023 Issue
Q: I’m a single mom who works from home. At noon, I pick up my 5-year-old from half-day kindergarten. Because I’m unable to pay attention to her while I’m working, she wants to watch television for the rest of the afternoon. We have a no-TV rule on school days, but I find myself unable to enforce it. If she isn’t watching TV, she’s at my door, complaining of boredom. Help!
A: My mother was single for most of the first seven years of my life, during which she worked and attended college. When she was home, studying or writing, she made it clear that her work was more important than my whims. Did I want more of her attention? Absolutely! Did I suffer because she created and enforced a boundary between us? Absolutely not!
In relationships of any sort, boundaries are essential to respect. No relationship boundary translates to exploitation on one side of the relationship and enabling on the other. Too many modern moms seem to think that enforcing firm boundaries between themselves and their kids will cause the latter to hemorrhage self-esteem all over the floor. Cowed by psychobabble into checking their authority at the door when they come home from work (or, in your case, when you bring your daughter home from school), the moms in question make one compromise after another with their kids.
Toss the no-TV rule because your daughter complains—with great drama, no doubt—of being bored after school.
Stick to your guns. Your daughter’s subsequent unhappiness will be short-lived, I assure you.
1. Make a doorknob hanger of the sort one finds in hotel rooms. Color one side red and the other side green. Hang it on the outside knob of the door that leads to your home office.
2. When the red side of the doorknob hanger faces out, the message is, “Do not disturb me for anything other than a dire emergency.” Every so often, when you can (but no more than twice a day), flip the hanger to green and call out, “Green light!” That means you are available to her for 10 minutes or so.
3. If she disturbs you when the “red light” is on, and she is not having an emergency, put her in her room, with her playthings, for the rest of the afternoon.
4. Regardless, the two of you will do something creative together for 30 minutes (plenty of time) every evening—draw, color, read a book—after which it will be time for her to begin getting ready for bed.
In short, you make your daughter a very simple offer: She can either leave you alone through the afternoon and enjoy freedom, or she can bother you and be confined to her room. Three experiences with the latter option (the so-called “charm”) should solve your problem. In the meantime, your daughter will learn how to occupy herself, which is one of the most valuable of all life skills.
Q: Getting my daughters, 15 and 13, to pick up their clothes from the floors of their rooms requires constant nagging from me. I’m at my wit’s end. Please help me out with this. It’s driving me slowly insane.
A: Okay, I’m going to solve this problem for you. Well, actually, I can’t solve your problem for you, but I can give you the solution. Whether you muster the mojo needed to carry it through is another matter.
I have immaculate confidence in the solution because it worked for me and it’s worked for lots of parents (who mustered the aforementioned mojo). Simply, do not ever again so much as politely request that your kids pick up their clothes. Don’t ever again mention it, even. Got that? Then, the next time even one item of clothing needs picking up, pick it up and put it precisely where it belongs. That’s right! YOU do it!
And then, simply wait for a golden opportunity to bring them face to face with Reality, in the form of Bad Karma. Bad Karma is sorely lacking in the lives of many if not most of today’s pampered, enabled, indulged, micromanaged children, which explains why so much of the behavior of so many of today’s kids is so under-disciplined, not to mention the negative effect a LACK of Bad Karma has on mental health.
Speaking proverbially, if an adult “leaves his clothes lying all over the floor” in the workplace, his employer will most certainly not nag. The employer will make his expectations clear and make sure the employee understands the expectations. If violations continue, the employee may receive one more warning, and then, in all likelihood, he will be fired, thus being forced to suffer a lower standard of living.
Parents cannot fire a child, but they can lower a child’s standard of living. Along that line, the next time either of the kids asks for freedom to leave the house and socialize with friends, say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but I am forced to inform you that in the Real World, which I am obligated to acquaint you with, you cannot do what you want to do until you have done what you are supposed to do. In this case, you do not pick up your clothes, thus requiring me to do so, which I’ve discovered is so much easier than nagging. Nonetheless, I am not able to grant your request. Sorry.” And walk away.
Yes, that is definitely easier said than done. Accountability is never easy for a parent to dispense because it’s the hardest pill for a child to swallow. But a child gains much from learning to swallow it, early.
John Rosemond is an American columnist, public speaker, family psychologist and author on parenting. His weekly parenting column is syndicated in approximately 225 newspapers, and he has authored 15 books on the subject. His ideas revolve around the ideas of authority for the parents and discipline for children. For more information, visit www.johnrosemond.com and www.parentguru.com.