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Handling the Child with a Mind of His Own

Your child has a mind of his own.  You have raised him right, as you perceive that to be, but he stubbornly wants to do things his own way.   You have many different parental responses to consider.  Below are some of those responses and their pros and cons.

The Command and Control Response

This response is the top-down, hierarchical response that is common in most households.   From lecturing and grounding the child for violating parental rules to the while-you’re-under-my-roof-you’ll-do-things-my-way speech, this approach typically clearly communicates the boundaries and the gravity of the potential violations.  The clarity of communication from parent to child is usually outstanding, but the communication from child to parent is usually poor (or nonexistent).  Furthermore, unless the child has a hidden streak of subservience, the command and control response is likely to provoke rebellion.  The rebellion may not be immediate, as it may take years for the child to manifest the rebellion that has been stirring within him, but the rebellion will usually come . . . in its own time, in its own way.

The Educator Response

This response assumes that, when the child is well informed, he will make the appropriate decisions for himself.  From teaching about the benefits of doing as parentally advised and the risks of doing otherwise to showing the child videos, movies, books, etc. or even introducing the child to people who have made alternative choices and suffered the consequences, this approach can be quite persuasive.  Additionally, this approach is typically well received by the child involved.  However, youth commonly assumes exemption from life’s harms.  The it-won’t-happen-to-me thinking can prevent even the most well informed child from making good decisions.  Adults have lived long enough to know the long-term consequences of some choices and the probabilities of those consequences as well.  A child may be told of these matters, but his sense of personal exemption may prompt him not to make a good decision on his own no matter how well informed he may be.

The Empowering, Inquiring Response

This response focuses on what motivates the child to choose behaviors that are contrary to the parents’ teaching.  It typically validates the perspectives of the child as much as possible while seeking to understand the child’s flow of logic.  Parents employing this response may say, “I understand that you want to backpack around Europe instead of going to college.  I agree that it sounds like a grand adventure, but I worry about your safety and your not getting a college education.  You know we, as your parents, love you and want the best for you.  If this trip is in your best interests, then we’ll support that fully.  I’d like to ask you a few questions just to understand your position.  What is it that attracts you to backpacking around Europe?  (pause for answer after each question)  Can those objectives be met in some other way?  Who will be your traveling companion(s)?  What plans do you have for safety and security?  Have you spoken with someone who has done what you are proposing to do?  From what sources are you gathering information about your trip?  How will your trip be funded?   What is your plan when you return home?  Do you worry about potentially not getting a college education and your ability to support yourself well as an adult?  What are your career goals and how will you achieve them?”  This response emphasizes child-to-parent communication while also allowing for moderated parent-to-child communication.  This approach is typically well received by the child involved.  However, because of the aforementioned youthful perception of exemption from life’s harms, the child may make a poor decision even with the most thorough empowering, inquiring response.

The Humorous Response

This response is the light-hearted approach found in households where laughter is common.  The humorous response may be phrased, “Ok, so you don’t want to keep kosher.  I say we have pancakes and sausages for dinner.  Why not?  If we’re going to opt for convenience and set aside the boundaries that our ancestors have honored for centuries, then I want to go bold!  Speaking of which, I’ve always heard that bacon is really yummy.  Let’s give that a try!”  This response can be well received if the child is open to the humor.  However, if the child is feeling defensive about his intended choice, humor can be perceived as derisive and will thus backfire.

Each of these responses has its place.  No response is universally appropriate.  As parents, you must decide which response best suits your child and the situation.

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