Parenting: A Real Management Challenge

Parenting is a management job, not a dictatorship. Getting children to do what parents want them to do is the great struggle of parenting. For some strange reason, children would prefer to do only what they want to do. Trying to force children into battles over obedience is a miserable way to live. Instead of seeing parenting as a dictatorship, see the task of parenting as a management challenge. Good managers lead their team, and the team wants to follow. If daily life is a struggle at your house, here are a few suggestions that might help.

  1. First, give up the idea that parents are the boss.

    Instead, think of aparent's job as that of a manager. The real task is to encourage the child's cooperation. Of course a child who refuses to cooperate will experience the consequences of that choice, but there are ways to engage a child's sense of cooperation for the common good.

  2. When something needs to be done, describe the problem to the child.
    • "There are books in the floor."
    • "Dishes are still on the table."
    • "Wet towels are on the bed."

    Expect children to do the right thing but don't be shocked if they don't. These are learning situations. Give children the opportunity to tell themselves what to do.

  3. When a child volunteers cooperation, NOTICE.

    Express appreciation and your high opinion of the child. Children who can tell themselves what to do are happier children. They are also learning to live in the real world.

  4. If a child looks at you with a "So What?" expression, give further information.
    • "There are books in the floor and we need them picked up."
    • "The dishes need to be in the dishwasher."
    • "Wet towels will cause mildew."

    Now if the child still refuses to do anything about the obvious, clearly explained problem, advance to the next step.

  5. continue story below

  6. Give the child a choice.
    • "You can pick your books up now or stop watching television for the evening."
    • "You can put your dishes in the dishwasher now or give up your evening snacks."
    • "You can pick the towels up now or go to bed early."

    Keep the consequences reasonable, enforceable, and immediate.

  7. Stay calm. When you know what you will do next, there is no need to yell, scream, or get upset.

    The child still has a choice and can decide to cooperate, even at this point. If the child does the task, express appreciation for his cooperation. If however, the child ignores you, consider that a choice.

  8. Step in and do the what needs to be done without yelling or begging.

    Enforce the consequences that were promised. Don't take any excuse at this point. Ignore begging and pleading and promises to do it next time. Enforce the consequences and let the child experience the results of his choice. If you give in this time and allow the child to escape the consequences, don't ever expect cooperation. Children learn quickly when they experience the results of their choices.

  9. When children know what is expected and simply forget, remind them in kind, considerate ways.

    Nagging and pleading destroy a parent's power. Children have no respect for a parent who nags, pleads, and begs before eventually moving on to the yelling and screaming stage. Remember, the goal is to get children to do what needs to be done, not to engage in power struggles.

  10. Use as few words as possible for reminders.

    If you remind children of what needs to be done in paragraphs of discussion, cut your words to a sentence.

    This won't work:

    "Why is your towel on the bed? You know that wet towels cause mildew. Didn't you hear me tell you to get the towel off the bed? When are you going to listen?"

    The towel will still be on the bed and the child will not be more inclined to move it.

    This is better!

    • If a child needs a reminder, try for one sentence. "The towel is still on the bed." The child knows the rest of the story and will appreciate not having to hear it.
    • If it can be said in a sentence, it can be said in a word, "towel." The child has been reminded (we all lose track of time now and then) and can still tell himself what to do. Everyone can still feel good about each other.
    • If the issue is a sore spot, write the word on a piece of paper instead of saying it. It is hard to say it wrong or hear it wrong when it's on paper. The best way to communicate to teenagers is in writing.

    There is no need to struggle over everyday chores. Instead of orders:

    • Expect cooperation.
    • Give children a chance to tell themselves.
    • Offer kind reminders when necessary.

    With difficult children, this is necessary.

    No one likes being given orders all the time but some children have extremely bad reactions to such a situation. That's one of the reasons they are considered difficult. Approaching parenting as a management challenge instead of obedience training is important for difficult kids. Besides, obedience training is for dogs and other pets. Children need training in people skills. The best parenting book I've ever read is not a parenting book.

    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey is about management based on principle-centered leadership, relationships with people, relationships based on trust, and problem-solving based on win/win situations. Dr. Covey now has a set of tapes on principle-centered families. Although I haven't heard the tapes, I knew this material was perfect for the job of parenting when I first read it.

    Learning how to encourage cooperation instead of simply demanding obedience takes practice, but it is definitely worth the effort in the long run.

    • Think before speaking. To yourself say, "What is the problem here?"
    • Put the problem into objective terms. Describe the problem.
    • Follow the steps. Write out the steps on a card and keep it by the mirror for a few months.
    • Practice. Like all skills, this ability improves with practice.
    • Read more about it: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish.

next: To Spank or Not to Spank

Last Updated: 28 July 2014
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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