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Who's in Charge?


You tell your son to clean up his kitchen mess, assume all is understood and walk away. An hour later you are back in the kitchen after running errands, some of which are for him, and the kitchen remains a BIG MESS! What do you do? You say, "I have to go and yell at the kid, what is his problem, doesn't he understand English?" Then what do you do? You go and shout at him, reminding him that you are always doing things for him, why can't he do this one thing for you, and then you storm off down the hallway, being grumpy with anyone who gets in your way. What is that all about and is it really necessary?

As you get up each morning and begin your day, does it ever happen that you decide, "I am going to get very upset at my son today." No, I think not. What usually occurs is that you are caught by surprise because as you expect your child to respond with compliance to your directives, he oft times will not. You respond in a frustrated manner, confronting your child over his lack of compliance, making others, including yourself, uncomfortable within the house as you attempt to discipline your son. What is going on? What kind of life is that, what does this do to your home life? Who is in charge here?

What you may want to consider is that your typical strategy of getting what you want from your child is not working as effectively as you might have hoped it would. Sometimes just asking is not enough; not if you want it done. Parents often ask the question, "Would you mind doing the laundry while I am gone? When what you really mean is "DO THE LAUNDRY WHILE I AM GONE!" Once the statement is made, expect it to occur. Wait for it. Should you return and the chore is not complete, ignore the child, keep your game face on and move on to your next activity. Your child will be surprised. Really. Because he is waiting for you to say something, anything, that will give him a sign that he is controlling the situation; he wants to control you. There are many reasons why he may want to do this, usually it is because he feels he has been treated unfairly in the past and this is his way of getting back at you. If you are able to move on and ignore him, what will happen next is: He will come to you. Just wait for it. He will come to you. And, now, you are in control.

This is good, but your child will not like it. He will become loud, he will use problematic words, and he will attempt to persuade you to fight with him, because you usually have in the past. But resist his efforts; keep a calm, gracious demeanor. Resist the urge to speak with him. Resist the urge to speak with him until he finally completes your assigned task to him. This is the tricky part, this could take days, and so make sure whatever task you assign, you can be patient with it if it does not get completed right away. Talk with others in the home; resist speaking to your son, as he does not deserve your company until he has completed your assigned task. Wait until he has completed the task, then you may smile at him, tell him "thank you," and say, "What a nice son I have to have completed the laundry just as I asked him to do." It does not matter that it was a week ago that you started this plan, it only matters that your son got the message: Do what I say and I will engage and interact with you. You have all of the control you need to make the change is your child's behavior: Interact with him when he is being compliant and ignore him when he is being rude or noncompliant. He will soon learn that the only way to have your attention is through his good behavior and this will gradually allow him to change his behavior on his own, omitting the need for you to argue and fight with him. For you to take charge in this way will take time. Be prepared. Much as a child takes some time to learn how to walk, so will your son take some time to make adjustments in his behavior. Yet, just as a child learns to walk and keeps on walking, so will your son learn to behave better and continue with the behavior. But you must make the change first; you must be in charge of this family, because you are the mature one. Children look to us for guidance, so we must take charge and guide. Thus only offer your attention to your child when he is doing as you ask or expect. Then and only then will he learn to behave correctly.

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