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Who's In Charge?: How to Retain Your Authority

Updated: Mar 4

The relationship between you and your child is so complex. Sometimes you’re the boss, sometimes your child is the boss, sometimes there’s no boss and you just do whatever you want on a Sunday. Sometimes all routines go out the window when you’re on, say, vacation. Other times it’s a particularly hectic week and your schedule is really tight. Alas, you’re the boss again!

Did you get all that? Was that confusing? Well, yeah! For children, the simpler the better. For you too, maybe. So let’s answer the question: Who’s in charge? You! The parent! The clearer that is to your child, the easier your life will be. And the happier they will be as well! I know, it doesn’t sound like they would be because at times they get defiant or “disobedient.“ But that’s actually typical and developmentally appropriate. They have to assert their independence by being defiant. It’s like they're drawing the line where you end and they start.

The more consistent you are with rules, the quicker they’ll get it and the quicker they’ll master the routines that make everyone’s life more comfortable.

For example, let’s say you require them to wash their hands before a meal. But when they start crying and whining, you give up and just let them eat without washing their hands. When this happens often enough, your authority becomes lessened and it will be harder to get them to do what needs to be done.

In your pursuit to retain your authority, here is some language to help you:

  • “This is playtime and in 10 minutes, it’s bedtime.” You can even show a timer so when it rings, they themselves can know that the time is over. If they whine and you can spare the time, then give them more time. But intentionally state it: “I see that you want to play more. It’s a Friday and not a school night so it’s OK to play five more minutes.”

  • Before an activity like the playground, establish the rules in collaboration with them. “We really want to have fun here and be able to be home to make dinner. So how long should we stay here, 30 minutes? Great. I’ll set my watch and when it rings, we’ll go, OK? Agreed?”

  • “In this house, we follow the rules. One rule is: Food doesn’t belong on the floor. Food goes on a dish to be eaten.”

  • “This family does not use bad language. We practice manners and are kind to each other and others.”

  • “I see that you don’t want to go in the stroller. This is a busy street, which means we have to be more careful. Staying inside the stroller keeps your body safe here, so please go in the stroller. “ If they still say no, give them 2 options: “Do you want me to carry you and put you in the stroller or would you like to be a big kid and get in it by yourself?“ Children love choices and respond to them. But as you see, either choice gets them in the stroller.

  • “I’m afraid that you will fall from that chair. Please come down. We have to keep our bodies safe at all times.” It’s OK, even beneficial for their comprehension, to tell them how you feel. We are human too!

  • “Please don’t throw blocks across the room.” And if they do it again: I asked you not to throw blocks. That’s number two. At three, I will have to remove you from the blocks.” This is from Magic 1-2-3 Book. It works!

Don’t forget, the success of all of the above also depends on a child’s age. This language will work with children from 18 months to six or seven years old. As you see, these are positive statements, not combative and punitive. No threats that they will lose TV or bribes to give them candy if they comply. Confusing routines with rewards and punishment is signing up for a lifetime of arguments, destructive negotiations, and whining. But consistency and repetition with clear language provide stability that helps them succeed developmentally.

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