Stopping the Pushing

Our daughter, who is 11, constantly rebels against everything she is supposed to do : chores, homework, getting up, going to bed. All our discussions turn into arguments and fights. Her room is a mess. Every morning is a battle to get her up and out of the door. We have tried everything : humour, affection, logic, explaining, logical consequences nothing works. There is no “give and take.” She says she wants more freedom, but she refuses to accept the responsibility that goes with that freedom.

Imagine that you are walking down the road, and someone is pushing you from behind. You actually want to move forward and get somewhere, but you don’t like being pushed, so you push backwards against them. The result is that no one goes anywhere. The person pushing you is also in a difficult situation : They are getting very tired of pushing, but they know if they stop pushing, you will fall over backwards. So they keep on pushing, and the harder they push, the harder you push back at them. Everyone is getting exhausted, but no one wants to stop.

This describes the situation with your daughter, only you are the ones doing the pushing. Every child wants to accomplish things under their own steam, to be responsible for their own life, and this desire increases as they approach their teens. But if the parents have accepted the ultimate responsibility for the child’s achievements, the child tries desperately to get the parents “off her back” by resisting whatever they tell her to do. Her need to be in charge of her own life leads her, paradoxically, to resist whatever she is told to do.

The only solution is to stop pushing! But if you do, things will temporarily get worse, just as the walker will fall backwards if the pusher stops pushing. If you stop being responsible for your child’s behavior and achievements, she will temporarily fail at a lot of things. She will be late for school, not get her homework done, get overtired by staying up late, and so forth. And then, after a while, if no one pressures her or lectures her about it, she will realize that what happens in her life is really up to her, and she will begin to take responsibility for it.

The kind of consequences your daughter needs to experience for her behavior are not logical consequences imposed by you, but natural consequences resulting from her behavior. If she goes to bed late, she will be tired in the morning. After a few weeks of this, she will put 2 and 2 together and start going to bed earlier but only if you keep your mouths shut about it! I watched each of my three children, in turn, stay up late at age 11 for a few weeks, until they “got” it. Similarly with other things in your child’s life. If her room is always a pigsty, she won’t be able to find what she needs. If she is late for school, she will be given detentions. If she doesn’t do her homework, she will receive bad grades and perhaps even fail. If she forgets to make her lunch, she will go hungry. She needs to know these things from experience, not merely from lectures.

When you let her experience the natural consequences of her behavior, be sure not to lecture, or say “We told you so.” It will be really hard for you to “bite your tongues,” but you must do it. You will feel like “bad parents,” as she temporarily messes up her life, especially when others (your own parents, the school, your friends) pressure you to “do something” about her. It is very important that you convey to your child that you recognize her life is her own, and then follow through by no longer pushing her to do what she should do. It’s a paradox that the parents who constantly push their children are often very loving parents, who can’t stand to see their children fail. So they impose a lot of logical consequences, while rescuing their children from the natural consequences of their actions. Don’t rescue your daughter. Let her feel that her actions have results, positive or negative, in the world beyond the home.

Of course, you are still parents, and you will sometimes have to intervene when your daughter’s behavior affects other family members and not just her. Each time she misbehaves, ask yourselves “Who owns the problem?” If she stays up late, it makes her tired, not you (if you ignore her), so it’s her problem. If, however, she keeps interrupting you when she’s up late, she is invading your boundaries, so it’s your problem, and you’re entitled to ask her to stop and impose a consequence if she doesn’t. If her room is a mess, it’s her problem; if she leaves mess all over the house, it’s your problem, since it interferes with other family members. If she’s late for school, or doesn’t get up, or forgets her lunch, it’s her problem. And so forth.

It’s hard to break a long-standing habit of pushing your child, pointing out to her what’s wrong with her behavior, and lecturing her on responsibility. It’s important to realize that she will only become responsible if you let go, and not only stop telling her what to do but be quiet about it and ignore the worrisome behavior if it affects only her. She actually knows what she should do, so there’s no need to tell her. Think of your new parenting style as a kind of retirement! The stage in which she needed to be told what to do is over now, and you can move on and get lives of your own, letting your child live her own life. Remember that when you let go, the problem will get worse but if you refuse to go back to your old style of pushing and rescuing during the “worse” period, it will get better again, as your daughter finally realizes that her life is up to he!

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