It was a warm day in late fall. My husband was waxing our van while I was shopping with our daughter. Our middle- school-aged son was inside “hanging out.” Boredom must have set in at some point in the afternoon because he walked to the window to check on his Dad. Startled by what he saw, he bolted out the door, sprinting to my husband who was sprawled out flat on the driveway.
Returning home a few hours later, I heard the story, complete with a positive ending. My husband had failed to see the camper hitch directly behind him when he reached the rear of the van. He backed into it, lost his balance, and gravity took over. My son finished the story. “He was just lying there not moving. I thought he might be dead. So I raced out to check on him. He was okay. And Mom, I didn’t put my shoes on, ‘cause a life is worth a lotta pairs of socks.”
What Do You Really Value?
I had to agree. (Though in my head I could hear echoes of my last hundred commands not to go out the door in your socks.) A life is worth a lotta pairs of socks. I was relieved that my husband was alright. And grateful that my pre-adolescent son had been home. But the whole incident and his profound response caused me to pause.
Many children, mine included, struggle with responsibility. Keeping up with required tasks, academic assignments, chores, and even the basics of personal hygiene frequently eludes them. Do you, like me, find yourself repeating parts of this familiar “song”? “Pick up your shoes, wash your hands, hang up your towel, put your clothes away, dishes in the dishwasher, do your homework, practice your instrument, AND don’t walk outside in your socks!!!”
I began to ponder the importance of towels, dishes, and socks. Yes, it is my job to help my son develop good living habits. (I envision the gratitude on the face of my future daughter-in-law!) But at what expense? Endless reminders have little effect. At best I become irritable and tired. He feels annoyed and incompetent. Perhaps, in his mind, I am reducing life to a pair of socks.
How to Encourage Cooperation Without Nagging
Digging into my parenting resources, I uncovered some useful tools that could help me gain some perspective on what I really consider important in life. The following is a summary of my findings.
- Lower your expectations. Kids are “in process.” They’re supposed to be impulsive, ego-centric, and have poor judgment. Expect this kind of behavior on a daily basis. (Or more often!)
- Let it go! Select what is most important to you and let the rest go. Pick your battles. If you continue to demand perfection, kids can become resentful or forever feel inadequate. Relationships and self-esteem will suffer. I decided my son’s room was his to keep as he wanted – as long as it wasn’t a health hazard!
- Focus on the positive. Notice and express appreciation for the times your children do show responsibility. Catch ‘em doing good and let ‘em have it!
- Use humor. “Those socks are starting to walk towards the door.” “The dishes look sad sitting on the table all yucky.” “You win the prize for dirtiest hands before supper. The prize: sink, soap, and towel!” (Parental warning: add a smile, hold the sarcasm.)
- Write lists or make a chart. Lists don’t get louder. Plus kids often feel a sense of satisfaction as they cross off accomplished tasks or attach a sticker. Include fun stuff too, like having a snack, hugging your Mom, singing a song!
- Try problem exploration. Make your kids part of the solution to a problem and let them see themselves as problem solvers. Approach kids calmly with your feelings and ask for their suggestions in working through a persistent problem. Brainstorm a list of options and then come to an agreement all can live with.
- Do something fun together. With each of your children, plan a date night or time just for the two of you to talk, exercise, shop, or play – away from the “have to’s” of home. My son and I recently enjoyed lunch at an ice cream parlor on an afternoon when he had early dismissal from school, and I realized afterwards that that little “date” renewed our relationship. Breaking out of the routine will help you remind your child(ren) that your relationship is one of love and playfulness, not just authority and nagging.
Dozens more ideas exist. Talk with other parents. Attend parenting programs; read parenting books. Fire up your imagination and let it soar! But remember: a life, a relationship, a family is worth a lotta pairs of socks!!!Pam Nicholson, Certified Parenting Educator
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