Choose your battles

Yet again, unfortunately, life has gotten in the way of my blog posting. But now that we’re back from vacation and the taxes are done (mostly), I’m ready to get back to the blog. Today’s topic: choosing battles vs. inconsistency.

After fielding a few questions on the topic, I’ve discovered that many parents are rigid with their children for fear of being inconsistent. They believe that they need to fight every battle, lest they lose their parental authority. Let me assure you that you really can choose your battles without losing your authority.

In fact, I recommend that you choose your battles. When you fight every battle, your home becomes a war zone. Your children grow up thinking you are unfair and too strict and will start talking back just to be heard. Eventually, as they get older, they rebel just to gain a bit of freedom.

Think before you speak

The key to choosing battles is to think before you speak. If you haven’t said a word to your child about a particular behavior, then you really can choose to let it go. But once you tell your child to stop doing what he’s doing, you must follow through.

Here’s an example of how you might choose your battles without losing your authority:

Your child is pulling every book off the shelf to see which one he wants to read. The shelf is bare and the books are spread out all over the floor. The mess starts to nag at you and you’re tempted to tell your child to stop and start putting all the books back.

But you stop yourself. You realize that free playtime isn’t over yet and he really can see the books better when he spreads them out. And you always want him to read more books, so you don’t want to discourage his newfound interest in books.

So you let it go. You don’t say a word. He can clean them up when playtime is over.

Inconsistency

Here’s how the same scenario might go for a parent who is too quick to speak and ends up being inconsistent:

The set-up is the same. The child is pulling every book off the shelf and spreading them out on the floor. The mess starts to nag at you and you immediately tell your child not to make such a mess. You tell him to start putting them back. He whines and tries to state his case that he can see the books better.

So you think that maybe he’s right. Maybe it is okay that he makes a mess in free play. Besides, you really do want to encourage his interest in books. So you decide that the mess is okay. You decide that you’re just choosing your battles, and that it’s okay not to follow through.

The minute you told him to put the books back, however, you lost your opportunity to choose your battles. You gave him a command and by not following through on that command, you are being inconsistent. Choosing your battles is all about not saying anything and letting a behavior go. Once you say a word, you have chosen to fight that battle.

Being consistent and maintaining authority is all about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. So if you want to be able to choose your battles, you need to stop yourself and really think before you speak. It won’t hurt anyone if you take a few seconds. If you end up regretting what you say (which has happened to me many times), you must still follow through.

The caveat

There is one caveat to choosing your battles. If your child willfully disobeys a house rule that he knows is a rule, you can’t choose to not fight that battle. Say your child is jumping on the couch (always a no-no) and you dealt with the behavior consistently five times that day, you can’t choose to let it go the sixth time.

If you let it go the sixth time, then he will think that you really didn’t mean it those five other times. Even if the behavior continues the next day (and you’re in a better mood or you got your coffee or whatever), you must still follow through. Your child won’t respect you or your rules if you don’t enforce them.

Choosing battles is for those little things in life that nag at you but that won’t harm anything or anyone in the long run. So be sure you think before you speak and allow yourself that time to decide whether you want to fight every battle or let it go.

Comments

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is such a good post for me. I, sadly, can be the inconsistent mom. I don’t take enough time to think before I speak, then will step back after I’ve spoken. What I’ve done is let my son tell me his side. I’ll tell him I’m thinking about it, then give him my decision (this is a very short process). But in the end I said something first, then backed out later. I just get caught so many times and feel trapped by my own words, then (like you said) I’m in a war zone and that’s no fun. I guess it’s time to start practicing taking that deep breath and thinking before speaking. Thanks again for a fabulous post!

  2. Kristin,

    The other thing you might have discovered is that your son is quick to negotiate with you. He might think that if you really don’t mean what you say, he can plead his case and make you change your mind about anything and everything. And I like what you say about practicing taking a deep breath because that’s really all it takes. You just need to get into a new habit and after a few days of practice, it will become second nature. Good luck!

    Maureen

  3. I just wanted to quickly thank you for your blog! I just discovered it tonight and I know it will be a huge resource for me as I train my 19 month old. I only wish I had found it sooner! Nevertheless, I am grateful to know about it now.

    Kelly

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