A lot of power struggles result from a caregiver just wanting to be consistent. Perhaps we’ve been told that if we let children decide, we are spoiling them. We worry that in being flexible, we might set a precedent for future manipulation. Consistency is important– we should consistently use common sense, empathy, listening and clear communication.
I recently was hanging out at the park with one of my daughter’s friends and her parent. The parent was describing a playdate that had not gone well, and explained that part of the reason was the other parents had used the word “let” too much. “The adult shouldn’t be saying ‘let’ about children,” she asserted, “they should be the adult.”
I get that. Children need adults in their lives. Some children become overwhelmed when presented with too many choices and too little structure. These kids do better with clear and limited choices.
Some other kids do fine with even broader choices, but all children need to learn to make decisions on their own, and the safest place to do that is with you. If something isn’t worth the argument to you, you’re allowed to let it go. Sometimes we forget that we are trying to raise independent thinkers.
Respecting children’s autonomy and opinions isn’t spoiling them. Changing your approach midstream does confuse them though, thus the timeless “be consistent” advice. Consistently* enter into the communication with an open mind, willing to hear the child’s point of view, even if it’s “let’s never ever leave.”
It’s okay if some days leaving the park is a decision guided by the kids. Other times there may be an appointment that is at a firm time, and you must leave. Make a distinction between those times. On the loose day, say something like, “hey kiddo, you’re the boss today. Let me know when you’re ready to go and we’ll go home for dinner.” If you’re worried that you will never leave, then make it something like, “I’m getting hungry. What do you want to do at the park before we leave?”
If it’s a day when the timing is important, and it’s time to go, then communicate that. Offer time for the transition. “Hey buddy, it’s about five minutes away from when we are leaving. Were there things you wanted to make sure and do while we are here?” Give clear information, “we need to leave at 1:30,” and follow up with reminders and a firm ending time. At 1:30, leave. If your child is upset, empathize, listen, and repeat, while moving him toward the exit.
* Try. No one gets it every time. No one.