You Can’t Make Me Do Anything

Supermarkets can be dangerous places for a parent. There is something about a supermarket that can make even the most compliant child run wild. As soon as you enter you may feel your child’s grip loosen on that trolley. Before you know it your child has made a run for the confectionary aisle or is having a tantrum in aisle 4 because they are suddenly too hungry and tired all at once. Generally at this point you will catch the eye of another adult or two who sends you that subliminal message with their piercing gaze: “Control your children!” Then shame and embarrassment kicks in and you get frantic as you try to make your child behave.

Well, I am going to let you in on a little secret of parenting: You can’t make your kids do anything.

If you have a strong-willed child, chances are they have already figured this out. At some point, most children do. However, as parents we will find our job much easier if we grasp this concept early in our children’s development.

This really should not come as too much of a shock. Consider your child as a baby: you take your sweet little one home from the hospital, you change their nappy, you dress them in a new baby suit, you give them a drink of milk, you sing them a song, you read them a little book, you wrap them up tight in a swaddle, you gently place them in their cot with a sweet little mobile above it, and then …. They don’t go to sleep. So you rub oil on their forehead, change their swaddle, sing another song, rock them, plead with them, but nothing that you do makes your child fall asleep. Your child is sending you a message very early on: “you can’t make me do anything.”

But don’t lose hope! This is actually a good thing. Realising that your job as a parent is not to make your children do exactly as you say is a great relief. It does take the pressure off. Our job is something quite different – our job as a parent is to help your children learn how to make good decisions.

Our job as a parent is to help your children learn how to make good decisions.

One day you will not be there to stop them from making a bad choice or to force them into making a good choice. Eventually your child will become an adult who is fully independent. One of our jobs as parents is to help our children to become an independent adult who makes good choices of their own volition. The training for making good choices starts in childhood.

Let’s take our supermarket story as an example. Your child senses an opportunity to run wild and starts to move away from your trolley. Depending on their age, you may need to follow them in order to supervise their safety. However, rather than try to physically restrain them, give them a choice. Your choice may look something like this: “You can move away from me if you like but if I have to follow you you will be going to bed early tonight and there will be no screens for 2 days. It’s up to you.” Then act as if you are no bothered by what they may decide. Look busy scouring the shelves.

Sometimes your child will make a good decision, and sometimes they won’t. When they don’t, just buckle in and ride it out. After spending an elongated period of time at the shops wandering around they will then have to endure you finishing your shopping. They may throw a tantrum, that’s their choice. Wait it out and supervise rather than engage. Once it is done finish your shopping, pack the groceries in the car (and your child!) and calmly drive home. Then, once you are home, administer your promised consequences with little fanfare and no tedious lecture.

Consequences are to help shape your child’s decision next time as much as they are about shaping decisions right now. When your child makes a bad choice don’t force them into a good one. Let them feel the consequence of their poor choice and maybe next time they will make a better one. The horse has bolted once they make their decision, just provide the consequences be they good or bad.

With consistency children often learn to make good choices without you forcing them to.