21 Sep Dealing with Your Children’s Demands
Do you often feel totally exhausted at the end of the day by all the demands your children make on you? I certainly do. It sometimes seems never-ending. It is hard work raising kids, believe me. No matter how old they are, children want, they demand and they believe their needs are urgent. It takes all our energy to channel them in the right direction. What do we do?
Looking at your track record so far, what are you aiming at? Is it peace and quiet? From what I see around me, most people seem to be saying “Yes”. They give in to their kids’ demands just to “make them happy” and quiet. Whether it’s food, candy, a small toy, a new article of clothing not planned for, unexpected money for entertainment, parents hand it over. Some do it unhesitatingly. Others start off saying no and then change their minds. The kids appear happy and you have peace and quiet. Right? I don’t think so. What appears as short term gain may produce long term pain. The whole thing can become a pandora’s box.
Constantly fulfilling all our children’s desires can stunt their inner growth. Although kids operate at the level of desires, feelings, and moods, they cannot stay there. Parents need to realize that their aim must be to form the child from the inside out, rather than provide from the outside in. Kids need to be taught the difference between need, desire, and priorities. If you don’t help them see what’s really important in life, who will? Is life just about accumulating? Getting your own way? Going from one pleasure to the next? Only thinking about me? Or is there more? Take a step back and really look at what you are doing with your children. Calmly and regularly, make small efforts to form your child’s conscience with truth, good criteria, and higher values. Don’t let material indulgence and quick fixes become a substitute for the real love and sharing your child needs to receive from you. Realize that the pattern you set in the early years will influence their survival of the teen years. You need to lead your children into adulthood by putting each building block in the right spot. Make sure you are underlining not undermining their personal integrity.
“No” is a word your kids need to hear, no matter what their age. Do not use it frivolously. The few times you choose to use it, follow through all the way and don’t change your mind. Of course, this means you need to think before you speak. Also, realize that there are many ways to say no in gentler ways. Having an arsenal of approaches decreases rebellion, improves co-operation and develops a sense of criteria. Here are some examples:
- “Not right now honey. Snack is at 4:00 p.m. Then you can eat.”
- “Sure you can buy that item. We’ll set up a chart of jobs you can do; and when they are completed, consider it earned.”
- “It is homework time in 10 minutes. Then the TV is off, no questions asked.”
- “Yes you can have that toy your sister is playing with, but you will have to wait 10 minutes. When the timer on the stove beeps, it’s your turn.”
- “Yes, that is a nice toy. I will mark it in my agenda so I can remember it for your birthday/ Christmas.” They’ll be happy you took note, but will soon forget.
- “Yes, that’s a nice doll. We have lots at home. This one will not make you happier. Your sister makes you happy when she plays with you. That is more important than this doll”.
- “No, we don’t need that. Having more does not make us happier. We make each other happy.”
- “This is a snack, it’s not a meal. That’s all you get.”
- “This is for supper. It’s okay that you don’t like it, but there is nothing else. We are not a restaurant. The next meal is at …”
- “Just because the kids at school have this, doesn’t mean we have to have it right now. We can wait a month”.
- “We don’t need this latest style to be more popular, more likable. We are special just for who we are. Things don’t make a person and we don’t need this to be any better.”
- “It doesn’t matter that we are different. We do what is right and not necessarily what everyone else is doing”.
- “Good idea. I’ll discuss it with dad and get back to you by the end of the week.”
Whatever parents choose as a response to their children’s demands, they must realize that it is so worthwhile not to give in to every desire. It’s not a question of whether you have the money to provide. It is more about the moral development of your children. Your example and reactions will slowly develop their capacity to wait, to be patient, to trust you know better, to learn your criteria, to be able to manage without, and to see this demand as not crucial to their true happiness. You will help them make distinctions between good, better and best; desire, want and important need; priorities, realities, and responsibilities. Their hearts will not be drowning in superficial pleasures and they will be more apt to think, reflect and make better judgments. Done regularly over time, this approach will help your children to be masters of themselves, not led by impulse or feelings but by right reason, truth, and timeless values. So much will be gained and so many problems in later years will be diminished.
Our job in this department begins right when they are toddlers. It starts first and foremost with our own example. Our children need to see that we are not led by our moods, but rather by our principles. As Josemaria Escriva once said,
“Parents teach their children mainly through their own conduct. What a son or daughter looks for in a father or mother is not only a certain amount of knowledge or some more or less effective advice, but primarily something more important: a proof of the value and meaning of life, shown through the life of a specific person, and confirmed in the different situations and circumstances that occur over a period of time.”
Our kids need our good example and strong direction. They need to see a consistency in the way we choose to live. We think not only of ourselves but the well-being of others, especially those we love. Our aim is not to blindly follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. We rather choose to do what is the best thing for our well-being, even at the expense of being different. We freely choose to aim for the highest personal good and channel our feelings and energies into serving that purpose. We are born to be leaders and will be a slave to nothing, no passion, and no one. We have free will and we use it to pursue true happiness, something that runs much deeper than momentary pleasures, fads, and impulses. We are not a slave to our moods. We are not centered on Me, Me, Me, but on what is best for the real good of others. Our children need to see this lived in our family life, our work, our social relations, and our community responsibilities.
Therefore, we should not cave into their pressure for instant gratification. We need to stand strong, stand firm and gently channel their demands. How much more we will achieve in leading them to maturity! We won’t necessarily have peace and quiet, but we will be building stronger kids. They need that toughness. You need to give it to them. They will need it in the face of all the decisions that will assault them in life. What an amazing foundation you can be laying. So go ahead and pour the concrete in the right place! Their future depends on it.