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Getting Kids to Do What We Want Them to Do

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Every day I talk to frustrated parents.  Most wonder what they can do to make their kids do what they want them to. From potty-training, to not talking back, to scoring better grades or getting into the right college, most parents agonize over their ability (or lack thereof) to influence their kids’ behaviors.

The million dollar question is: can we influence our kids in a meaningful, positive way? The answer is, yes. We- our personalities, humor, affection and speech- carry the greatest energy force when it comes to shaping the adults that our children become. As grown children, we understand this. We still hear our Dad’s tone of voice when he got angry when we were little or our mother’s comfort when we failed a test.

Our parents shaped our emotional constitution more potently than anyone else in our world when we were young.

But there’s another question which haunts us parents. Even when we know that we have the power to shape the character of our children, we still want to figure out how to change their behaviors. Like potty training or getting better grades. Can we make our kids stop wetting their pants? Can we persuade our kids to get A’s instead of C’s? These are the smaller, more superficial questions that we fret over.

The answer lies in our ability to motivate another person. We can bribe, threaten and offer positive or negative rewards. But when it comes right down to it, we’re challenging the will of another human being. And for many strong-willed kids, that’s a dicey place for a parent to go. Sometimes we are successful at getting kids to comply and sometimes we aren’t. And that’s OK.

Rather than fret over tweaking our kids’ individual behaviors, like when they finally potty train or which college they get into, we parents should stand back and shake some of our anxiety off. Really.  All kids learn to stop wetting their pants, so relax about the timing. Thousands of kids who haven’t gone to big name colleges grow up to be professionally successful.

We need to focus more on enjoying our children rather than on getting them to do what we want them to do.

I’m not saying that we should let them loose to do whatever they want, but we need to stand back and let who they are, unfold. Each child is born with certain wiring to become a very specific individual and our job as good parents is to watch that character emerge. We can gently guide them in one direction or the other, but micromanaging their every move makes everyone miserable. So, good parents, let’s learn to relax a bit in 2012 and have confidence that our job is simply to get the big stuff right.

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