To Agree to Disagree

Do we need our kids to agree with our parenting decisions? This mom asks how to handle a child who is fighting her authority by arguing with every decision.

Q: We have our 6 block daily charts set up for our 9-year-old son. Since he is constantly defiant, we decided that it is more than enough to just focus on disobedience as his one target misbehavior. A few questions:

1) If I ask him to do something and he does it, but does it begrudgingly do I let that go? Or do we require him to obey right away and happily from the start? We are beginning with a child that does not do anything that he does not want to do. I’m thinking that if he begins the practice of doing what he is told, hopefully he will become happier himself and the right attitude will follow later on.

2) He is a tantrum thrower. They can be small or massive and out of control. I’ve read about the “chair of wisdom,” but I’m not sure how to handle that with someone who may be thrown to having a full blown fit. Do we state our expectation and then if he disobeys just remove a block? If he begins to complain and want to talk, do we try to hear him out? Should we use the “chair of wisdom,” but with the rules that he not yell or become out of control? I’m expecting explosive push back from him once we begin his chart.

My instinct is to tell him from the start that any tantrum (small or large) would mean he stays in his empty room for 1 full week. I’m afraid of being drawn into a power struggle so my gut is telling me to skip the “chair discussion” time because I feel in his case it would defeat the purpose of me or my husband remaining in authority. I know he will not receive any firm “no” from us with out at the very least falling on the floor, begging and crying, once we get to those blocks that truly mean something to him.

How much of that push back do we allow and ignore? If we take a block and he starts to cry, do we just walk away and only respond further if he is throwing a tantrum that is getting out of control. Then send him to his room for the week once he is calm? We are caught in a cycle of power struggles with him over every little thing during the day. How would you advise we proceed?

Remember to make sure you still have positive connections with your son throughout the day, like hugs, and little interactions that show your love for him, even in the midst of targeting misbehavior. We never want our children to feel like we don’t love them, even when we have to correct their behavior.

A: Before I answer your question, please make sure you are defining “disobedience” in concrete ways. Your son needs an objective goal—otherwise, he’ll give up and not want to even try. So defining obedience objectively would be: When we give you a directive, you are to complete it immediately.

For your first question, yes—ignore all grumblings and focus, for the near term, on the act of obedience itself. You can address the heart later, but it’s the actions that should come first.

For tantrums, I’d recommend having a tantrum place—the bottom stair, an out of the way corner, a half bath. Then when your son starts a tantrum, direct him to the tantrum place, where he stays until he’s regained his composure. Show him the place when he’s calm, and say you’ll direct him there when he starts to have a tantrum. No blocks lost, no power struggle—it’s simply a place for him to regroup on his own…and come out on his own.

The Chair of Wisdom is a tool to be used sparingly. In essence, it’s where the parent gives the child permission to disagree with the parent’s decision. Not with the goal of changing the parent’s mind, but to allow the child space to air his or her grievances. The parent doesn’t try to persuade the child to agree with the reasoning behind the decision or with the decision itself. Rather, the parent simply listens to the child’s complaints, nodding and being generally sympathetic. In other words, a wise parent uses the Chair of Wisdom to give the child a sense that he or she is being heard. For many kids, just knowing a parent is truly listening can help them process the decision better.

But for now, your son isn’t able to use the Chair of Wisdom because he’s only going to get worked up trying to change your mind. You might use that later on, but for now, it would do more harm than good.

You’re on the right track! Remember to make sure you still have positive connections with your son throughout the day, like hugs, and little interactions that show your love for him, even in the midst of targeting misbehavior. We never want our children to feel like we don’t love them, even when we have to correct their behavior.

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sarah@sarahhamaker.com
(703) 691-1676

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