Every parent knows that feeling in the pit of their stomach when something routine and easy becomes the source of conflict and leads to an argument. What we don’t realize is just how much time we spend in a tug of war disagreeing over simple things.
Six times every day. That’s what researchers recently discovered about the frequency of arguments between parents and children. Over and over again we hear objections and try to come up with good reasons why our way is better. Over and over again we learn that children don’t think the way we do about these same routine subjects.
Food and drink. Really? That’s right; over half of our arguments are spent arguing about how much food to consume or what kind of food will be eaten or spilled drinks or full plates vs. empty plates. Six times a day comes up to almost 2200 times every year! At 49 minutes per day arguing, too much of our precious time together is spent disagreeing and exchanging angry words.
Parents know it is best to pick your battles. Fighting over cereal or peas doesn’t lend itself to harmonious, affection filled evenings. Getting up with a smile on your face can be very short lived if a bowl full of cereal can ruin your morning. Unfortunately, one fight can lead to another. “If you aren’t going to eat, then go get ready for school!” we might say. Noticing the snail’s pace chosen to move to the bedroom, we feel obligated to try and encourage faster compliance with our waning parental authority.
Most of these fights are avoidable.
Routines help reduce the need for constant parental supervision while we get ready to leave the house for school. Having practice runs on Saturday morning and taking little pictures of each task to tape on the mirror and alarm clock can provide less intrusive cues to our young children. Older children just need a deadline and the freedom to fail. Usually one failure is enough for an older child who is confronted with how to find their own way to school because the parents plan to be at work on time.
That’s right. Planning ahead for how you will keep your child safe when they stage their denial of services from you can jerk their chain enough to make them think twice about trying it again. Having a neighbor in on the plan to be available for a surprised child who watches you pull out of the driveway in the car will be unknown and miraculous to your child. Staging a phone call from the grandparents might also be used to provide a way of escape for a child left behind in the morning. Of course, these alternate methods of transportation should cost the child something, but that’s another subject.
Instead of arguing, keep your words kind, brief and all about what you will do or allow. You can enforce the time of departure as long as you have alternative plans in place. Younger children can be sweetly informed that they are welcome to get in the car with their school clothes on or in a bag. Pack a bag of less favorite clothing near the door so that you can hand it to them on the way out and they can get dressed in the car. Of course, you might need a plan for the child who insists on dressing at the door of the classroom because a cooperating teacher won’t allow them into class in their pj’s!
Don’t bother to argue, just help your child understand there are consequences to the choices they make. Kids who don’t eat their breakfast are hungrier at lunch than kids who are full when they leave the house. Parents who work don’t bring forgotten lunches and coats and school papers to the school when kids forget. Neither do parents who stay home because it’s not a parent problem; it is clearly a child problem.
Life is too short for 500 hours of arguing to consume our precious family time. Plan better and argue less this year!