Imagine two four-year-olds, Joe and Ben, in two different homes...
Let's assume that both children wanted Sugar Crisp cereal for breakfast, and their mothers got it for them. Let's then assume that both children changed their minds when the bowl arrived and requested Frosted Flakes instead. Naturally the parents resist, saying, "No dear, this is what you wanted," which prompts the children to knock the bowl of cereal on the floor and go into a major fit of temper. They scream at the top of their lungs, become beet red, and pound the table with both hands.
Let's take a look at the defining moment for the futures of parents and children alike...
Who's in Charge at Your House?
True or False? Kids' self-esteem and creativity are both higher when they can "do their own thing" and they are not exposed to external limits imposed by adult authority.
Believe it or not, this statement is false. A number of studies have come up with the conclusion—which makes sense when you think about it—that kids feel better about themselves and perform better, creatively and otherwise, when they learn the boundaries for reasonable behavior.
The world itself has all kinds of limits and rules. There are rules for how to treat other people, speed limits, laws about property rights, rules for sports, interest payments, taxes, marriage. You may not like all these regulations, but if you don't recognize them, you will get hurt and wind up more frustrated than you would be if you followed them. Parents are the ones who introduce their children to life's boundaries.
How parents establish rules and set limits—or fail to set limits—not only has a tremendous effect on the self-esteem of a child, but it also affects the relationship between parent and child, the parent's own self-esteem and the overall atmosphere for everyone around the home. These effects are enduring. They involve not just a particular hour of a given day, but they involve weeks and months and years.
The parents' job here is complicated. It first involves coming up with reasonable rules. These must then be communicated clearly to the children. Then they must be enforced on a regular basis. And finally, when they are being enforced, children rarely say, "Thank you for your efforts." Instead they test and manipulate.
So how do you resolve squabbles quickly and reasonably? You need to stop and think a little bit and then come up with a plan. You can use one very simple kind of conflict resolution plan when you want your kids to stop doing something obnoxious, such as arguing, whining, fighting or tantruming. On the other hand, when you want your youngsters to start doing something positive, such as going to bed, eating, doing homework or picking up, you should put together some regular routines to handle these problems.
What's the plan for dealing with conflict based on obnoxious behavior? It's simple: explain—if necessary—first, and then if an explanation doesn't work, count. Your daughter, for example, wants a Twinkie right before dinner. You calmly said "No" and explained your reasoning. She pushes the issue, though, and starts whining.
When a parent makes a demand of a child or turns down a request, we have a mini-conflict situation. How parents and kids resolve these situations hour after hour and day after day has a huge impact on family life, marriages, mental health and on the ultimate maturity of children as adults.
It is absolutely essential, therefore, that parents learn to efficiently resolve the conflicts that result from saying "No" to a child's request or from asking a child to do something.
A basic parent/child conflict resolution rule is this: The longer a conflict goes unresolved and the more talking done, the poorer the outcome will be.