For years, I struggled with joint pain. I was prescribed pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications. They treated the symptoms, while the disease damaged my body beyond repair. Often, we try to put bandaids on bigger issues by treating the symptom instead of the source.
Many parents "treat" the behavior, not the source of the behavior, and wonder why the behavior continues. Some of us are sometimes dumbfounded when we see what a great change can come when we get to the root of the issue.
People often ask me how I would handle different situations with children's misbehavior or refusal to do something. I assume they ask because we've had our fair share of struggles with five unique children, two on the autism spectrum, one with OCD, and all just as stubborn as their parents...and we have survived thus far.
My answer is usually a series of questions, "Why do you think your child is acting out? Does s/he need more connection and time with you? Is s/he stressed about something? Is there a good reason for your child's behavior? Have you asked your child what they need in the situation?"
I've found that, in most cases, the issues parents have with a child are just a symptom of something bigger.
Many children refuse to do something for perfectly good reasons...and/or often we adults require children to do things for completely inane reasons.
We had a problem with people leaving dishes all over our house. I say people, and not "our children" because apparently the children always took their dishes to the kitchen, or so they said. It would seem that Not Me and Someone Else were to blame.
In an OCD huff, I commanded that as soon as someone was done with a dish, they immediately bring it to the kitchen, wash it, dry it, and put it away. This made perfect sense to me. A few stressful days of me constantly reminding children to take care of their dishes ensued, with many paused movies, interrupted conversations, and frustrated children who just wanted to get to the end of the chapter they were reading before taking care of their tea mug. Children whined and complained. I was miserable. Then I realized that I was causing everyone more stress with unrealistic expectations. Cleaning up dishes upon leaving the room to move on to another activity would do nicely. Besides, I didn't interrupt my reading, working, or creating to clear my dishes, so why should I expect my children to do so?
Which brings to mind that often we have a different set of rules for our children than we do for ourselves. But why? Shouldn't we be setting the example for our children? Yes, there are some things that need different rules - perhaps bedtimes or movie ratings or how old you need to be to bike to the end of the street - but how many of our rules for our children are just plain absurd when we think about them?
Taking time to ask our children what issues they are having can often yield simple fixes. And taking time to ask what our motives are for making a child do something can often give us a better picture of our own motivations.
One of my children had an issue with brushing his teeth. It was a battle every time. Why couldn't he just brush his teeth and get it over with? I didn't understand what the big deal was. Surely it couldn't be that horrific of a thing. I was upset with the child until I took a step back and asked him what would make his teeth brushing experience more manageable. A change in toothpaste and some privacy did the trick. No more epic battles at bedtime. At least not about teeth.
Another of my children was angry much of the time. His treatment of his siblings was horrible and it was sad seeing him struggle to cope with life. What we thought was bad behavior was simply sleep deprivation taking its toll. A change in location of his bedroom made a huge difference in his ability to sleep better and sleep in (he's a night owl like his mother) and his attitude greatly improved.
We were able to come to solutions for these issues because we stopped telling our children to behave properly because we said so and got to the root of the problem. We did this mostly through listening to what our children had to say about the issue at hand and asking them for solutions. Children are great problem-solvers.
One of the things I love about my family is that we work as a group to figure out what will work best for us as family. My children will call us, their parents, out on things that they see as not right just as we will bring to our kids' attention their not so great behavior. I will also ask my children if I'm being completely unreasonable with a request when I'm unsure.
We all make mistakes. We all make assumptions. And we all apologize and try to do better. We change things that need to be changed. We try different things out until we figure out what works best. We realize what works best now might not work best in a year. We realize that we all misbehave at times - even parents. And that's ok, because we're all human. We learn together how to navigate life's trials and come out better on the other side.
I try to embrace the struggles because they are the best learning experiences and the greatest chances for growth.