Helping My Child with Keeping Agreements

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(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.