A couple of years ago, after a day of poor listening and procrastinating and moaning and groaning, I sat my 3 gifted kids down on the couch, and in mom-of-the-year/drill sergeant style I stared them down and said:
“From now on you have one response when I ask you to do something. You say ‘Yes, mom!’”
I say, “Go clean your room.” You say, ‘Yes, mom!’
I say, Wash up for dinner.” You say, ‘Yes, mom!”
And then I had them practice.
If you have gifted kids, not-so-gifted-kids, or been around a kid once in your life, you know how well this little military conversation worked. Operation-Listen-on-the-First-Time was a complete and utter failure. And, in truth it would be a failure with any child (they are their own little people with their own wants, needs, and thoughts, after all), but this approach absolutely would never work with gifted children, unless they lived in an environment of enormous fear and awful consequences. I’m going to assume that none of us are aiming to create that type of environment.
Gifted kids perceive and think about the world in unique, complex ways. They are designed to question, probe, understand, explore, and think outside of the box. They want to know the reasons why something works the way it works, and and wonder if there are other ways to make it work. They are curious, inquisitive problem solvers.
And we love this about them.
Except when it interferes with our own plans.
In a classroom with 22 kids, we don’t have time to get through the material and wander down the rabbit trails of wonder. When we’re just trying to cook dinner after a long day at work, we’re in no mood for the Wisconsin Inquisition. And, when we’re tired and needing our kids to get ready for bed, we just want them to say, “Yes, mom” and head off to do it.
And, yes, there are times when our kids just need to listen. If they are running out into the street with a car coming, they need to just stop when we tell them to, without question or debate.
But, most of the time, we need to be okay with the fact that our little fast-minded, curious kids are going to negotiate, to argue, to question, everything (yes everything) that we say. They aren’t trying to be disobedient. They are trying to understand. They are trying to find their own motivation and reasons for performing the requested action. They need to understand, and we need to be understanding of that.
The biggest shift in the agreeability of my children, and decrease in conflict was when I stopped expecting them to change their nature and personalities and started to change my mindset and parenting style.
I’ve learned to slow down. Breathe. Stay calm (most of the time). There are very few things that are actually as urgent as they feel.
I’ve learned to prioritize. Again, there are very few things that are actually as urgent as they feel. Reminding myself of my priorities keeps me and my expectations in check. My priorities? To nurture emotional, physical, and relational safety, and wellness. To guide my children to be content, effective, compassionate adults. To nurture their unique personalities and to be proud of their specific wiring, quirks, and to know themselves. When I start to feel annoyed by the negotiating 6 year old, I remind myself of my long-term goal.
I’ve learned to engage with the questions, provide my responses, be flexible when able, and stand firm when necessary.
I’ve learned to be as proactive as possible and provide the reasoning ahead of time. Rather than wait til we’re in the grocery store and arguing over whether or not they can pay me back and buy some candy, I try to set the clear expectations. “Hey guys. We’re going to the store. We are only purchasing crackers and gatorade. We will not be looking at toys or the candy aisle because we only have 15 minutes to get to Destination Imagination and I have limited cash on me.” This also is the case for those times when they absolutely need to listen. Ahead of time, when all is calm, we talk about the cue word for when they simply need to listen immediately. I promise them I’ll only use the cue word when it’s an actual safety issue, and will explain after the fact, but when they hear me use it, they simply need to do what I say.
I’ve learned to draw the line when the negotiating lingers on too long. When we find ourselves in a loop of excuses, arguments, pleas. When I’ve already listened to them, provided my rationale, decided it’s a time to stand firm. When they still ask and try to negotiate anyway, I respond with a simple, “Asked and Answered.” “But mom! I know you said dinner is in 15 minutes, but I’m hungry now. Can I please have a cookie or two?” “Asked and answered.” “But, I’m really hungry!” “Asked and answered.” “But, mom! I’ve expended all my glucose and now I have no energy and will be lazy and unproductive. I can feel my body moving through ketosis and entering autophagy. My metabolism is slowing and my immune system is weakening. Do you want me to be lethargic, weak, and sick?!” “Asked and answered.”
I’ve learned to stop assuming my children “won’t” do something, and assume they “can’t.” I assume best intent.
And so, as we enter a new year, I encourage you to try a new mindset and adapting your parenting style. Why?
Asked and answered. 😊
Heather Boorman, MSW, LCSW
Past WATG Board Member
Therapist with Boorman Counseling, LLC