Before your children were born, you probably had a vision of what kind of parent you wanted to be and what parenting would be like.
You imagined you’d be an understanding, kind, and fair parent.
You imagined that parenting would be hard work—of course—but that the joys and rewards would always be greater.
What you weren’t prepared for was just how challenging it would turn out to be. How mentally and physically exhausted you’d feel so much of the time.
Or just how bad you’d feel as a parent when you find yourself resorting to yelling, threats, harsh punishments or angry outbursts when your kids don’t cooperate.
You’d like to do things differently. You’d like to be a calmer, more understanding parent. But your kids continue to argue, whine, act out, throw tantrums…
And it leaves you discouraged and out of ideas.
That’s why I’m writing this article today. Because I want you to know, this happens to a LOT of parents for a very good reason, but there’s hope.
What’s the reason? Like many parents, you likely default into very common, ineffective parenting modes that often don’t work with your kids and leave you frazzled and frustrated.
Let’s examine those common parenting modes. What do you do when your kids won’t cooperate or want to do something you think isn’t good for them?
Say your 5-year-old wants to stay at the playground but it’s getting dark and you need to get home to make dinner.
Or your 11-year-old asks for a cell phone, even though you told him that you probably wouldn’t buy him one until high school.
Or your 9-year old daughter wants to have a sleepover with her friends on a school night.
What do you do or say in these situations?
If you’re like most parents, you FIRST shift into Lawyer mode.
This means you reason with the child about why they should or shouldn’t do something. You rationalize, form arguments, and offer evidence for why they need to cooperate—just like a lawyer would do.
We have to go now because it’s getting dark and we have to eat dinner. Didn’t you say you were getting hungry?
We already discussed all the reasons why having a cell phone is not a good idea at your age. Just because your friends are getting cell phones, doesn’t mean you’ll get one, too.
No sleepovers tonight. How am I going to make sure all your friends are up by 6 am and to school on time tomorrow? It just doesn’t make sense, honey.
Parents who shift into Lawyer mode do it because they think they can rationalize with the child and get them to acknowledge or accept why they can’t do something, but the child isn’t swayed. But when children want (or don’t want) something, they operate on emotions, not logic. In other words, when you approach them in Lawyer mode, they don’t “get it”.
Therefore, instead of accepting your logic, they whine, argue, cry, pout, or throw tantrums.
That’s when you get aggravated. You want to gain control of the situation so you shift into Dictator mode. Dictators don’t explain or rationalize, and they don’t wait for input. They demand compliance…or else.
You yell, “That’s enough, let’s go. Get in the car.”
Or you tell them to stop pestering you or else they’ll be no more sleepovers!
Or you punish them with a time-out or revoking privileges.
When you’re in Dictator mode, your anger and yelling further upsets your child. They get frightened and don’t know what to do next. They may have a meltdown. They may throw things or stomp their feet.
That’s when you may resort to yelling, threats, or physically placing them into a time-out.
Which may end the battle, but makes you feel completely crappy about yourself later.
The two ineffective modes of parenting—Lawyer and Dictator—either fail to get your kids to cooperate or make you feel like a lousy, mean parent.
So what’s the alternative?
It’s the mode I call being the Captain of the Ship.
I’ve spent decades working closely with families, and this is the mode I’ve determined that has the power to make you feel calm and centered WHILE inspiring your children to relax and cooperate.
The Captain has the ability and temperament to sail through the stormy waters of childhood. The Captain doesn’t get influenced by whining or stonewalling. Captains are sturdy, alpha-energy leaders who know what’s best for the passengers of the boat (household) and don’t resort to threats or punishments to get everyone on board.
Captain mode works because your child senses that you are confidently in charge and willing to calmly listen to them without being affected by their emotions.
When you’re in Captain mode, you are in tune with what your kids are feeling, so they are more at ease because they know you understand them. They know you won’t lose your cool because you’re confidently in control of your emotions. At the same time, however, you are firm in your boundaries and limitations.
Believe it or not, all children subconsciously crave structure, boundaries and limits. They appreciate the calm, collected parent that won’t be easily swayed by tantrums and whining.
As Captain, you help your child:
The Captain is not overbearing or authoritative. The Captain inspires respect without demanding it.
When you learn how to be the Captain for your children, it’s a game-changer. They know you’re in charge and they can relax.
Suddenly, your kids want to please you.
As a marriage and family therapist, my clients want to know how they can change their child’s behavior. I tell them that’s the wrong focus. It’s not about changing the child, it’s about fostering a better relationship with the child.
That’s the key to consistently positive results—knowing how to be the Captain with your children.
I’d love to show you how, but since it’s not possible for me to work one-on-one with every parent who needs my help, I’ve instead partnered with Flourish in order to reach as many parents as possible.
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