‘Papa, can I pitch up the tent in the garden?’, ‘Can you read me a book?’, ‘Please, I want to stay up a little longer tonight, just five more minutes.’, ‘Is there really chocolate ice cream in the freezer?!?’
I get those and probably a few dozen more (or maybe hundreds?) questions a day from my children. And not only me. All parents, I believe. The crucial point comes now: What do you answer? What do I answer? Sigh. I confess, I too often reply with an excuse like ‘Eeehm, maybe later’, or ‘Let me think about that’ (and not really thinking about it at all), or with a simple and straight forward NO! Full stop.
Often enough my NO will evoke disappointment, sadness or frustration in my kids. Yes, they might understand why they can’t have the ice cream right now, but why on earth is Papa not wanting to have a spontaneous campsite in the garden or isn’t in the mood for the favourite book?
The NO-word is easy to say. I’m the powerful parent and can decide and if I’m busy, tired, annoyed, stressed or simply not bothered many projects end up being dismissed before they even have a chance to take off.
Please, don’t get me wrong. There are very obvious and no-discussion-moments when you and I have to say ‘no’ to our children, to avoid danger and to simply protect them. Hey, that’s why we’re the parent and adult. And sure, children are more content, relaxed and co-operative when they know about clear and understandable boundaries.
No, here and now I’m talking about all those moments where I fired my NO without really thinking or reflecting. Sometimes just for the sake of my own peace and convenience. To get that moment of quiet or to enjoy the one little minute longer being on the sofa. And yes, that’s fine, too. We parents need to keep our sanity. But that doesn’t mean to use a NO as our power tool, or even worse, not take serious those things our children want to do.
We can make that change quite quickly and it doesn’t take too much effort. I started by taking my children’s requests for x, y and z more serious. When they asked me for something like ‘Can you play shop with me?’ and I just felt no desire at all in that moment, I decided this: give them the YES and just play for a few minutes. Honestly, a quick shopping trip to your child’s grocery doesn’t take longer than 3 to 5 minutes. I also asked my other son to join me and he went shopping as well. After a few moments they both were very busy with playing shop, so I could sneak out… I did my ‘duty’, gave a positive response by saying YES (even if I didn’t feel like it), but at the same time benefitted from it as both my sons were engaged in a game they liked and I could go back to – doing nothing.
(By the way, I prefer an honest NO (sometimes inevitable, I think) to ‘in a minute’, at least the child is not kept in the air and waiting. They know what to expect and continue in their game/do something else.)
Another way to show a more positive attitude is something psychologist Oliver James calls “Love Bombing”.
It could work like this: Spend this Saturday with the motto ‘Let the children decide!’ Yes, everything: from when they want to get up in the morning (hey, they might choose to stay in bed until lunchtime, so you have the morning to yourself), then the activities they chose for the daytime, their favourite food, to the point they decide it’s bedtime (agreed, it could be late!).
Oliver James says “I developed Love Bombing to reset the emotional thermostats of children aged from 3 to puberty. It gives your child a very intense, condensed experience of feeling completely loved and completely in control”. He advises to have a go at Love Bombing for a day or two or even a shorter period, followed by daily half hour slots devoted to it. He states that parents report a closer connection to their child and that Love Bombing balances the child’s behaviour and personality (read more about it here).
Of course you would have to negotiate. If your offspring ask for a super expensive day out (yeah, let’s go shopping and then to the fun park and then to the cinema and then to the zoo…), let’s calm them down a bit. Having a fun day, doesn’t mean you have to go bankrupt. We often spend an afternoon doing crafts with our children. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Try to see the day through your children’s eyes. They will love it – and you too!
Do you know the saying: When the children are happy, then the parents are happy too? I think that’s right!