August 6, 2014 at 12:00 AM
My son, 29, moved back home several years ago when he lost his job. The good news is he found another job, and is darn good at it. The bad news is, he has a few habits that drive me up the wall. One of them is leaving towels on the floor after a shower. It looks messy, you can trip over them, and they start to smell, too.
This morning I found the towels on the floor again. The conversation in my head began like this: “How many times have I asked you not to leave towels on the floor? How difficult is it to pick them up? It only takes a few seconds.” Nag, nag, negative language. If someone talked to me that way, I’d shut down and tune out in a flash. It’s a good thing that those words stayed in my head, and didn’t come out of my mouth.
Do you have a tendency to express what you don’t want instead of what you do want? It’s fairly common, and not very effective. Which would you rather have your child focus on, the ‘do’ or the ‘don’t'? They already know what the problem is, and know what’s coming after your first sentence. When you approach them with a ‘don’t’ you’re setting both of you up for resistance and a negative attitude.
Here’s a more productive way of dealing with the towels. “Please hang up the towels or put them in the laundry.” (My son already knows what needs to be done, so this isn’t teaching for him; however, it is non-confrontational and says what needs to be said.) This technique of teaching and stating things in a positive way really works, and it works for children (and adults) of all ages.
Parents often tell kids what not to do, when the goal is actually for them to do it differently, or better. Here are some other examples of turning nagging into teaching, and resistance into cooperation:
Don’t leave your jacket on the floor.
√ Your jacket belongs on the hook.
Why are there dishes in the sink?
√ Dishes go into the dishwasher.
You’ve spent enough time on video games.
√ When you’re done with your homework you can play for a while.
Don’t be late coming home from the party.
√ I’ll see you at 11:00.
Even better is when you can say it in a word or two. Age two or twenty-two, they’ll get it. Jacket. Dishes. Homework. 11:00.
Keep it short and sweet. Tell them what you expect. Reinforce what you want, not what you don’t want.
Fern Weis is a parent coach and former middle school teacher. Since 2008, she has been coaching and educating parents of teens and tweens, beginning by taking parents back to basics: breaking through the fears they have for their children, so they can confidently do whatever it takes (including what feels tough) to raise confident, self-sufficient, resilient kids who are successful in high school, college and beyond.
In her work with parents, Fern shares from her personal experience as the mother of an out-of-control teen. She learned that love and good intentions were not enough… in fact, they were part of the problem. Nothing was going to change until she did. So she did, and doing that work changed everything.
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