a friend of mine has a wonderful blog where she discusses homeschooling and homemaking and budgeting and cooking and all sorts of interesting and relevant topics. often, she will post a question from a reader and then give an answer.

what i like the most about her posts are their integrity. she walks the walk, so to speak. she has 9 children so far, and they are well behaved, well adjusted, and a pleasure to be around. so when she gives parenting advice, she knows from whence she speaks. i asked her for permission to repost something she wrote, and she gave me the okay.

her blog address, for those of you who want to know more, is www.oceansofjoy.wordpress.com

and here, without further ado, is her post:

>>I wanted to ask you for a reminder of how you respond to sassy comments or responses from a 10 y.o. who is generally pleasant until asked to do something he doesn’t like. Thanks!<<

This is a common situation, since when our kids are basically pleasant, we don’t want to be overbearing and feel like we’re asking too much of them to require them to always be pleasant.   We feel like we’re being unreasonable to ask that of them.  But at the same time, it’s really unpleasant to deal with them when they’re balking at what you’re requesting, or doing it with attitude.

I think it’s important that kids learn that they need to do as their parents tell them with a good attitude, not because they feel like it or agree with it, but because honoring one’s parents necessitates that.  And as a parent, I feel it’s my job to teach them to be respectful of me even if they don’t want to be (and even if I don’t care or think it’s a priority).  Remembering that it’s my responsibility as a parent keeps me from thinking that I’m being self-serving in teaching these behaviors.

There are two aspects of how to deal with this, but I’m going to address the first very superficially, and will deal with the the second one in more depth.

Firstly, you should be respectful of your child, and try to be a person they can respect.  Don’t put too many stumbling blocks in their way by being an irrational, unreasonable, overemotional witch on a daily basis (once in a while is normal, lol!), and then demanding that they treat you like a queen. And even if you’re being a basically nice parent, don’t ask them to do things from morning until night.  Even when you get compliance, their hearts aren’t going to be with you, and external compliance is of limited value if your kids can’t stand you.  But at the same time, don’t worry that you have to be perfect before you can expect your children to act respectfully, since if that was the case, no one alive would be deserving of respect from their children!

On to the second aspect, of technically teaching them to do things with a good attitude.  In recent months, I let my middles get away with doing things begrudgingly, with grumpy faces, or even sometimes with verbal responses that weren’t acceptable.  To remedy this now (and in the past, when the oldest three were at just this stage – 9, 11, 12), here’s what I did.

To jumpstart this reteaching aspect, I first let them know that when I ask them to do something, it would no longer be enough to just do it.  It had to be done with a reasonably good attitude – they don’t have to jump up and tell me how happy they are to fulfill my every wish, but they have to show what I consider willingness –  no negativity allowed.  No rolling of eyes, exaggerated sighs, arguing, questioning (although respectful discussion is okay), or pretending not to hear.  Smiling (or at least having a pleasant demeanor – a smile isn’t necessary) and doing it promptly is appropriate.

Then, I insisted on their responses being in line with the above.  And of course, at the beginning they never were.  So I modeled it for them, and then had them repeat it.  And I didn’t stop there.  They had to respond appropriately, and then once they got the tone down, I’d replay the entire scenario with them again, and again.  (I do this with the littles, too.)

Here’s an example: Me – “Please clear off the plates from the table and put them next to the sink.”  Child – “Why do I have to?  I did it last time.  You never ask (another sibling).”  Or they do it, grumbling under their breath.  Me – “Hmm, that doesn’t sound so respectful.  I’d like to hear you respond pleasantly, ‘Okay, Mommy’, and then do it.”  Child (annoyed and trying to get it over with, in an annoyed voice): “Okay, Mommy.”

Me – “Well, the words are right, but the tone needs some improvement.  This is what it should sound like (I demonstrate).  I’m going to make the same request now, and I’d like to hear you respond appropriately.”  Child: “Okay, Mommy” (some improvement, but still you can tell they’re inwardly rolling their eyes).  Me – “Better, but let’s try it again.”  (Replay scenario.)  Child then responds, “Okay, Mommy” and this time gets the tone right.  Me – “Great, that was just right.  Now let’s practice that three (or five, or whatever seems appropriate at that time) more times to be sure you’ve got it down.”

You might be thinking your kids would go crazy if you did this, but by the end of the role playing session, they’re usually in a better mood than when they started.  I do this with a smile and pleasantly, not in a mean and hostile way.  But they get the message that this is the standard that’s expected, and they’ll be held to it. And every time after that there’s a response that doesn’t meet the standards of our home, I’ll have them repeat themselves until they get it right.  And I’ll stand there for thirty minutes doing this with them if I have to (sometimes kids think they can outlast you and you’ll give up if they’re resistant enough, but they quickly learn that it’s not worth it if you consistently show you are willing to see the issue through).

If a child isn’t respectful or doesn’t do what he’s told, he goes nowhere and does nothing until that’s corrected.  (Well, not literally – they can still get drinks of water and go to the bathroom, but that’s about it.)  No books, phone calls, etc.  This doesn’t happen often – actually, it’s really, really rare – but it’s still a point worth mentioning, since your child has to see that you have staying power and you really mean what you say.

I’m not looking just for a forced verbal response; I want them to practice responding kindly and lovingly, because what we say and do changes who we are.  (For example, when you smile, it makes you feel more upbeat, and when you feel out of sorts, acting as if you were happy will help you shift to actually feeling happy.)  This is a process of retraining their minds, literally recreating new pathways in their brains, and it takes time and consistency.  You can’t sometimes insist on this and sometimes let them get away with being inappropriate, or you’ll end up having to struggle with this issue out on a regular basis