We are now into the third week of the Positive Parenting Series. By now, I hope that you have a great routine established and that you (and your partner) are finding it easier to be consistent with discipline. At this point it is probably important to warn you that you may have noticed a worsening in your children’s behaviour, rather than the improvement you were expecting. What??? Why????? you ask, with tears in your eyes? You may be encountering a very common phenomenon, which is resistance to change. Let me use an example to try and illustrate what you and your child may be experiencing.
Imagine that you absolutely love drinking tea and drink about 4 or 5 cups a day. Fortunately, you live with a wonderful, kind, tea-maker, who makes you tea on demand every single time you ask, with no complaint. ‘Please may I have some tea?’ you ask, and the tea-maker says ‘Yes! Sure my darling, no problem’. Happiness.
Then one day out of the blue, you ask for tea and instead of an enthusiastic ‘yes’, the tea-maker lays down a boundary… ‘no my darling, I am tired of being the tea-maker and I think it’s time you made your own tea’. ‘What???!!!’, you say. ‘But, I’m confused, you’re the tea-maker!’. So you get a bit more insistent. ‘Please, please make me tea’, you beg. You may even try to bargain or negotiate with the tea-maker ‘If you make me a cup now, I promise I will make the next cup’. But unbelievably, there is still a resounding ‘NO!’. If the tea-maker is very lucky you might at this point give up and accept the new status quo, but chances are you might start getting frustrated. You might say something like, ‘come on, but you’ve been making me tea all my life – why have you now decided to stop?’. You might be defensive and accuse the tea-maker of being selfish and mean and nasty. You might walk away in a huff. You are not used to hearing NO! from the tea-maker and are feeling very disgruntled. Unhappiness.
At this point, the tea-maker is battling with a terrible internal struggle. The tea-maker doesn’t want to make the tea any more but is finding the conflict very difficult to tolerate. A big part of the tea-maker just wants to go back to the way things were – so what if the tea-maker has to make 5 cups of tea a day? maybe it’s worth it? But no, the tea-maker realises resignedly. The tea-maker really does not want to make so many cups of tea any longer. The tea-maker has dreams to become an acrobat and so the tea-maker remains firm.
The next day you might try to ask the tea-maker again, hoping that the tea-maker might have softened or changed their mind. Again, they say NO! and again you get upset – even more upset than on the first day. You cannot imagine why your tea-maker has suddenly started saying NO! You are absolutely outraged. Much unhappiness.
The third day dawns and you still think about asking but you’re also realising that they are likely to say NO!. Just in case, you ask anyway. Again, the answer is NO!. By this time you are tired of raging and fighting and more importantly, it doesn’t matter how angry you get, the tea-maker still says NO! On the fourth day you wake up and make your own tea (and the tea-maker goes on to pursue a lifelong dream as an acrobat in a circus). Peace.
Now, this is a silly little illustration but it displays the stages that children may go through when you first start being consistent with boundaries. None of us like change, even when it can be good for us, and your children are no different. They might initially be confused and shocked, angry and frustrated, they may think that if they just up their behaviour or try to negotiate, that you may change your mind. It may take them some time until they finally reach a sense of acceptance, which then translates into behaviour change. So the challenge for parents at this stage is to hang on tight and ride the wave of your children’s difficult feelings. Wait patiently and kindly (but firmly) for your children to realise that you mean what you say and will not budge.
I know this stage can be very tiring and tough and so I wish you peace and strength as you negotiate it. If you would like extra support or guidance at this stage, please do not hesitate to reach out.