Experts will say that one of the worst things you can do when parenting any child (from two to eighteen years) is to engage in battle and come out second best.
“You will undermine your authority”, they say.
“You are rewarding bad behaviour”, they tutt-tutt.
But, surely there are those occasions in life when it is okay (and sometimes necessary) to back down or change your mind when dealing with others? In adults, a person who can admit they were wrong is often looked upon with respect. So, why can’t we demonstrate this quality to our children? What if some fresh information has come to light? Are we going to pig-headedly refuse to rethink our position purely because we are trying to teach our children a lesson?
So, how can we tread the fine line between flexibility and rigidity, between being open-minded and being a “pushover”? Here are some things to consider…
Before You Make a Decision
1. Delay your decision until you have all the information.
One of the best ways to avoid having to back-pedal on a bad decision (or being stuck with one), is to put off your decision until the right time. To make good decisions you should ideally be calm and not under time-pressure. You may want to discuss your decision with your significant other if is important. It may be an idea to go away and come up with a list of questions that you would like answered to help you reach your decision; this may be particularly useful when dealing with the iffy question of whether or not to allow your teenager to go to a party or a concert. Do your research thoroughly and you will feel much more confident in the final decision.
2. Consult your child about the consequences and outcome of your decision.
It’s pretty hard to make a reasonable decision when you are unsure of the consequences. For example, some parents may say to themselves: “I might as well let them go to the party because they’ll just try to sneak out anyway.” Assumptions such as this may lead to faulty decision-making and do not allow your child the opportunity to behave in a mature and appropriate way.
Try asking: “If we don’t allow you to go to the party, how will you feel?” “What else can you do on Saturday night that will be fun?” “What do you reckon you’ll say to your friends?”
Or: “If we do allow you to go to the party, what do you think are some fair boundaries?” “How could you help us feel more comfortable about it?”
For younger children, try preparing them in advance for how they can respond appropriately. You could say: “Sometimes mum and dad will make decisions you don’t like. Perhaps you’d like to go and chill out for a while or draw a picture so you can think about it.”
3. Leave your options open – review rules regularly.
Whenever you make a decision about household rules that concern your child, think about when may be the best time to schedule in a review. Children may be more likely to accept a decision if they know that it is not permanent. For example, say: “At the moment, your pocket money is $20 for doing the chores we discussed. We’d love to see this system work and we can review again in 3 months time.” Setting up pre-determined review dates will hopefully also reduce the likelihood that consistent nagging will occur and attempts to re-negotiate.
Remember to put it in the diary or the calendar if you set a review date. The last thing you want to do is unsuspectingly renege on your end of the bargain!
4. Anticipate difficulties.
Difficulties are much easier to overcome when you can see them coming and prepare for them. Anticipating difficulties is especially important when you are putting in place rules about consequences for misbehaviour. Think through the pros and cons of the consequences you are considering. For example, you may be considering implementing a consequence whereby your child will have to do additional chores if they misbehave. Possible pros of using this consequence are that you may get more things get done around the house, and the consequence can sometimes be logically related to the misbehaviour. However, cons of using this consequence are that you may cause more arguments ensuring the additional chores are followed through with, the chores may be done half-heartedly, and it’s possible that you’ll need to supervise.
Before making a decision, ask yourself (and your child), “Do you see any possible challenges in sticking to this?”
Changing Your Decision…
So, you’ve finally made a decision BUT are now thinking you might have made a mistake! What do you do if you want to change your mind without sending the wrong message?
Timing is everything. It’s really not a good look to suddenly turn around and change your mind as soon as your child starts arguing/begging/pleading/sulking or tantrumming. This is highly likely to send the wrong message. Consider waiting a few hours/days until the situation is calm and then sit down to discuss the specific reasons why you’ve decided to change your mind.
Communicate your thought-process. It’s important to make it very clear why you’ve decided to change your mind. Has new information come to light? Has your child presented some compelling reasons or change in behaviour? Do you believe you were being too strict or too relaxed the first time around?
Be prepared for backlash. Changing your decision in favour of the child? Not a problem – they might be smug, grateful or relieved. Changing your decision in a way your child may not appreciate? Be prepared for an emotional response. If you are sure this is the right move, stick to your guns and just ride it out.
Set guidelines. Setting guidelines is especially important if you have decided to allow the child/adolescent something that they previously didn’t have or weren’t allowed to do. Think about what the parameters are in order for them to have this privilege and consider putting it in writing and signing it. Any ambiguity or lack of clarity about guidelines will often come back to haunt you, especially if you are negotiating with teenagers.
Think about the future ramifications. Does the fact that you have changed your mind in this instance set a precedence for the future? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Most parents don’t want every little decision they make being brought into question and open to negotiation, so think hard about the pros and cons of sticking to your guns or rethinking your position.