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You're Not The Boss Of Me!

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I was recently reading a piece that a business management expert wrote about being a good leader and boss. As I read this short bite of insight, I realized that all of the principals and ideas that he presented apply to success in parenting. 

In working with clients over the years on navigating challenges at home with their children I cannot count the number of times a mom or dad has said to me, “I do all of these things in the work place and am very successful at it. But for some reason I did not connect the way I communicate with my employees/boss as the same way I might speak to my children.” This blog post is a twist on what Lex Sisney wrote about on “How to Give an Order” on his website Organizational Physics.
 
 
How should you give an order to your child?

It’s pretty easy actually. Don’t.
 
Instead of thinking that your role as parent means having power over your children, think instead of having power with them. (Note: This idea comes up in Positive Discipline a lot when they talk about working with children versus doing to children.) Put another way, the order shouldn’t be given by you to them but should come from a shared awareness of the situation itself. For example, let’s say that you have company coming over and toys need to be picked up and beds made. Your child comes into the kitchen and you bark out an order, “Get back to your room to clean up your toys and make your bed before our friends get here. Go!!” 
 
Fast? Yes. Effective? No.
 
Why isn’t that effective? Because every time you issue an order to your child you deplete your reserve of authority and you also deplete their reserve of power. Authority is the authorized right to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to something. Clearly, a parent has more authority than their children. But, like an artesian well with a fixed amount of water, each time the parent draws upon his or her authority, they take some water from the well. If they keep being “bossy” and playing the authority card, that well will soon run dry and they won’t have any authority left at all. Yes, you have authority over our kids. But when you over-play the authority card and issue orders like, “Clean up your room because I said so,” you are already doomed. Your kids might listen to that once, maybe twice, but soon their reaction is going to be,  “So what? You can’t make me. In fact, I think you’re meanie.” And if you try to revert to even more authority, then the relationship with our child is only going to deteriorate faster to where you’re constantly issuing orders, following up, and then feeling exacerbated and frustrated that those orders are not instantly followed. I think I can safely say, based on my own experience as a parent and as a family coach, that most parents would prefer being happy and highly effective to being exhausted and unhappy.
 
Remember, each time you draw on authority, you lose a finite resource. So use it sparingly and only in emergencies.
 
The other thing that happens when orders get issued is the “order” feels a loss of power. Power is the ability to exercise self-determination, creativity, and to help and/or hinder a situation. And children are starving for it because, quite honestly, they have little to no control or power over most of their lives. 

Here’s an example: Think of the last time you were issued an order by an authority figure? Wasn’t your reaction something like, “What a jerk that guy is. He’s not even seeing the situation clearly. Idiot! I wish that I were in charge and then I’d show him.” Now whether you or the authority figure was right, or the orders were right, is not the point at all. The point is that instead of thinking creatively and objectively about the problem and finding breakthrough solutions, you reacted negatively to the act of being given an order itself. You felt less powerful and if you did follow through on the order, didn’t you do just enough to meet the letter of the law versus exercising your full creative power?
 
So, each time an order is given, both the order-giver and the order-taker lose. The order-giver loses authority and the order-taker loses power. The best way to give an order is not to give an order at all. Instead, make sure that respective accountabilities are clear and then draw out the facts and viewpoints on the situation itself so that the former “order-taker” naturally creates and accepts their own order and follows through with self-determination and creativity. Let’s go back to the scenario where you have company coming over and you need your child to clean their toys and make their bed. Instead of an order like, “Go clean your room now!” It is a mutually respectful dialogue on the situation itself:
 
Parent: “So the last time I walked by your room I noticed that your bed was not made and your books were on the floor. Does it still look that way?”

Child: “I put most of my books on the desk.”

Parent: “What do you think we need to do to get it ready before our friends come over?”

Child: “I don’t know, put stuff away.”

Parent: “Anything I can do to support you?”

Child: “Yeah, can you help me with my blankets? They are all the way off my bed and I cannot lift them up”

Parent: “You got it. I will be up in a minute to help with that. What can you do with the rest of the books on the floor until I get there?”

Child: “I can put the rest of the books on the bookshelf.”

Parent: “Great, let me know when you have that done and I will be up there right after.”
 
It’s obviously a simple dialogue but the right spirit is there. Will they actually clean their room? Who knows. Nevertheless, their chances of getting the room cleaned in a timely manner are significantly higher than if the parent was barking orders. The child has their power intact and is thinking and acting in a creative and self-deterministic way and the parent isn’t depleting their authority to get it done.