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Honestly Speaking

I once received this email from a counselor. It brings up a valid point regarding what we should and should not tolerate from our children.

I got the youngster to the point of talking more about her unhappiness with things like homework and chores, rather than staying silent and not doing them. Her mother, however, considers this “mouthy” behavior and has made it so tough on the girl that she’s back to her silent behavior of doing absolutely nothing. She’s now failing everything. It’s like honesty is being punished.

I’ve always preferred a youngster complain about things like homework or chores as it infers at least some responsibility for them. Any counselor or therapist will tell you that the toughest youngster to work with is the one who won’t talk. Put another way, a little mouthiness could be a starting point. It might not be the most pleasant communication, but it is communication. Unfortunately, not all adults see it that way.

Reasonable is Relative

What is reasonable in terms of expectations depends upon who is defining it, the youngster or the adult. Even then, you have a strong chance of seeing it work pretty well at school, where, of all the teachers available, you’ll often see one or two who struggle very little with the defiant and noncompliant student.

Have you ever wondered why that is? Why do some teachers struggle very little with difficult students? It just might be because they have successfully implemented what the student views as reasonable and fair. These two characteristics can lead to more production with less stress.

And, if we can keep them talking to us, it’s a bonus.

But, of course, teachers don’t have to live with their students. At home, where the friction between one child and one parent can build and build, the picture can be dramatically different. It can lead to precisely what this counselor describes. If there’s no room for a child to ever complain, the behavior can go underground. Result: A silent attack that can drive a parent to medication.

A Positive Approach

If communication is the problem, it’s also a big part of the cure.

Mary’s mom wants Mary to do her homework immediately when she gets home. Mary resists, claiming her concentration is not the best when she first comes home. Mom could insist, but Mary could bomb on the homework.

There’s really no winner in this battle, is there?

Could Mary’s attitude in the way she addresses her mother grate on Mom’s already overstressed nerves? Absolutely! But it is Mom who can settle things down and turn the situation around.

Mary, I understand. We’re all pretty tired and cranky when we first get home. But I’m afraid if you don’t do your homework right away, it won’t get done at all. So what is your solution, Mary?

Let’s say Mary says she’d like to have a snack and just chill for half an hour, then she’ll do her homework. Why not give her a chance to do just that? Wouldn’t this youngster be more apt to keep a bargain she suggested?

Besides, it would make for a much more pleasant evening, right?

Dr. James Sutton is a nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist. His most recent work is The Changing Behavior Book; A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child. Visit to learn more.

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