Helping My Child with Keeping Agreements


(C) 2007 Richard Dudley

One morning I told my daughter (7.5) it was time to clean her room before watching TV. “Oh mom,” she said. “You know I need time to wake up and just want to relax and watch a show before doing anything else.”

I kneeled down and said, “Okay, I get that. So do you agree that after your show you will pick up your room?”

“Yes,” she agreed.

Well as life goes she watched her show, got distracted with other things and didn’t want to clean her room anymore.

I reminded her of our agreement. “But I don’t wanna clean my room!” she whined in reply.

I had to bite my tongue from saying, “See?! You just get what you want then don’t follow through! I should have known not to negotiate with you.”

Instead, I reminded myself that she was probably feeling disconnected and struggling with some tension around cleaning her room. What she really needed was some listening and connection from me, anything else would just get us into a power struggle.

I sat next to her on her bed and listened as she complained about cleaning her room. She got up from her bed and stormed around her room telling me all the reasons why she couldn’t do it and didn’t want to do it. As I listened her tone escalated. She told me I couldn’t make her clean her room and that she didn’t have to!

Staying calm, I kept my focus on just listening to her. It can be easy to jump into the lecture, but I reminded myself to focus on really hearing her and allowing her to express all that she needed to say. I knew if I said anything much at this point she wouldn’t really be able to hear me anyway. It was important that I keep my center and not get hooked into her feeling about cleaning her room or worried about how this was all going to work out. Her cleaning her room was going to take a back seat to my really connecting with her right where she was at so I just kept listening taking in everything she had to say.

It didn’t take long before I noticed her tone started to calm and she relaxed next to me. When she seemed finished I told her that she was right, she didn’t “have to” clean her room and I wasn’t going to “make her”. This caught her interest and I had her full attention. Then I told her, since we had made an agreement, I would like her to keep it. I let her know that trusting a person’s word is an important quality to me. If she chooses not to keep it, that is her choice and that choice would influence my making future agreements with her because I’ll know she doesn’t always keep her agreements.

I let her know it really was her choice, gave her a hug and kiss, and then went on with what I needed to do to get ready for the day.

When I walked by her room about 5 minutes later I noticed she was cleaning up her room. And, she seemed quite happy with herself too!

As a parent it’s easy to get caught by worry when our children are not keeping to their word. We want so much for our children to keep their agreements that it’s easy to resort to trying to make them and telling them they have to. When we forget to simply connect with our kids and see what’s making this moment hard for them it’s easy to resort to threats, shame, blame and guilt.

By taking the time to listen however, we form a powerful connection with our children. As we hear them fully, we not only get to know what is in their hearts in that moment, but it also opens them up to hearing us in return. This moment where we hear them and they look to us, ready to listen in return, is where we have the influence we so want with our children. It is the opening where we can share our values with them and know that they are really taking in what we are sharing.

This moment with my daughter has led to more dialogues about trust and keeping our word. We’ve talked about times where we may need to break agreements for different reasons and how we can do that without damaging trust. And, I’ve listened to her tears when, for instance, she wanted to skip a party she had already committed to so she could go to a different party. In these instances I have felt it important to listen, and then hold the limit that she keep her first agreement, and not change because something “better” came along.

I can see my daughter is learning from these moments. Recently, when I was reluctant to negotiate on something with my daughter she looked at me earnestly and said, “Mom, I keep my agreements.” I nodded, smiling, and said, “Yes, you do.” And, together, we found something that worked for both of us.

~ Michelle Pate, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant Learn more about the power of listening and connecting with your child by joining Michelle in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding Course.  You can also connect with her on Facebook.

Special Time Teaches Me About My Son

baiting hookEaster Sunday I had a chance to do Special Time with my 14-year-old. First we went to church, and he did his play in church and I was there. After church, we just did what he wanted. We went out to the marina, and walked the pier. This was what he wanted to do.

I very seldom get a chance to do this kind of thing because my husband is the one who normally does these things with him. So we walked the pier. My son realized that we had fishing poles in the car, and he said he wanted to get his fishing pole. So we had to drive back to town to get some bait. These are things I would normally get frustrated with! I’m the type of person that, if you are going somewhere, you have to have everything you need — I’m not going to take you back and forth! But I didn’t find myself frustrated that day, I was very calm. I was actually enjoying it.

We got back to the pier. I wanted to fish, once I was out there with him. But then came the worm thing! I never handle worms, never put them on the hook. But he was saying, “Now, Mom, you’re going to learn how to put that worm on the hook. You have to do it yourself. That’s the only way you’re going to learn how to do it. I’m not doing it for you!” And I said, “You aren’t?”

So I asked this gentleman, “Could you put this worm on the hook for me?” And my son came up and said, “Sir, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t do that for my Mom, she needs to learn to do it herself.” Can you imagine! And I found myself looking at this man, thinking, “Come on, I’m the parent, here!” But he told me, “No, I won’t.” I was getting ready to go ask another guy there to help me with the worm, when my son and both of these guys started talking in Spanish. My son speaks fluent Spanish. Now both of the men were saying, “No, Mamacita!” and I felt kind of outnumbered! It was amazing to see how my son took charge.

I can’t speak Spanish, but he can, and he and these guys were having a really good time. I asked him, “What are you saying?” and he said, “Well, you don’t really need to know, Mom.” And I thought, “Well, maybe it’s a male-to-male conversation, and I don’t need to know. Just because I’m the Mom, I don’t need to know everything.”

I finally got the worm on the hook, and we sat there, and we fished, and he caught two fish. He was OK with that. I really enjoyed taking that time with him. We got a chance to talk. He got a chance to tell me how he’s really feeling about me and about him growing up and the role I’m playing in his growing up. He made me see that I am too hard on him. He does need some loosening up from me in order to explore life for himself. He’s going to make some mistakes, and I need to allow him to make those mistakes.

That whole day, his dimple was as deep as it gets, he was smiling so big. He felt free — I could tell by the look on his face, he felt at peace. “I’m doing whatever I want to do, and she’s gonna do whatever I say.” But it wasn’t in a bad way. It was like, “I finally have got her to myself, I finally have her attention!” I could tell it felt really good to him, telling Mom what to do, and telling other people what he thought, also.

I’m the type of person who basically takes over with her kids. Not that I intend to boss them around, but I don’t always treat them like they’re human beings. They need some kind of control over their own lives. I was able to see this after that day.

So I started this week, as opposed to making him stay in the house, letting him ride his bike to the San Leandro Marina with his friends. I was on pins and needles the whole time. We had a plan. I told him, “Son, you can go. But you need to check in. Check in every hour, just say ‘I’m OK.’ Even if I’m not home, I want you to leave a message on the answering machine, to tell me how you are. I check those messages.”

He followed that direction. Every hour, he checked in–he was gone for four hours. “Mom, I’m OK — I’m at Round Table Pizza, and then we’re going to go back over to the Marina.” He let me know where he was every hour on the hour. I appreciated that. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I have been worried, thinking, “This kid is going to get out there and go crazy, like boys do!” But he didn’t.

He even stopped by the 99 Cent Store on the way home, and he knows I love little figurines. He bought me a little figurine, a music box. He was doing his thing, but he was thinking about me, too. It made me feel really good that I could trust him. I know I can trust him now, as opposed to not giving him that chance to see if I can trust him. He knows how to follow directions. That was a relief for me–a big step. We got through it OK.

So we’re going to spend a day a week, just me and him. And we’re going to do whatever he wants to do, within reason. He does need me, and I saw this. He has been on me, hugging me and kissing me and all this week. He was the kid who would say, “No kisses!” but all this week, he’s been hugging and clinging to me, and saying, “Mom, I love you, you know.” It’s not often that he says this, and he’s been smiling so big. We’ve been close, you know, but we’re going to be really close.

— a mother in Oakland, CA