DEAR DR. BOYLE: I recently divorced my husband, and I am having problems with my children. When I was married I did everything for the family and did not require anything from my children.
The other day I realized I have a problem because I needed their help, and no one was willing to pitch in. I was frustrated and hurt because I needed them, and they did not consider my feelings.
What can I do to fix this problem?
DEAR READER: Being helpful and considerate has to be taught. It is natural to think only of one’s self and not the needs of others.
We teach by clearly letting the child know what is expected, then inviting the child to do it. The final step is holding the child fully accountable to your expectation.
This requires total consistency and not accepting less than is expected. One mother felt her children were not doing enough around the house, so she started insisting that they help.
They initially tried to resist, but she had decided they were going to learn. She was clear in her instructions and held them accountable to her expectations.
It did not talk long for her to see a change. They were beginning to help when only asked once. She asked one of the children why she had changed for the better, and the daughter admitted it was easier to do what she was told the first time. She explained that she felt better and saw that mother was not as angry or upset.
Too many parents feel helpless when their children refuse to help or do chores, so they give in and do it themselves. This actually leaves the child feeling unsettled because he does not know if he will be in trouble or not and is fearful of something negative happening.
If he is not held accountable, he will eventually learn that mom or dad don’t mean what they say, and their poor behavior is reinforced.
To help we must change the behavior of the child by being consistent and sticking with the expectation – not bending to their wishes or whining.
When the child learns that he can not avoid adapting to the expected task or behavior, he will eventually conform. When this consistently happens the internal conflict he or she is experiencing will subside, and the child will feel better.
We may think we are being good parents by doing for our children that which they need to learn to be healthy adults.
But by doing everything for them or bending our rules to their wishes, we are actually weakening them and setting them up for pain and failure later in life. It takes work and consistency to raise up heathy children, but the rewards are tremendous. On the other side, if we do not teach them they and we will hurt for many years and the pain for everyone is difficult to bear.
Dr. Michael Boyle is a licensed, professional counselor practicing in Rockwall, specializing for 42 years in helping children, teens and adults overcome the challenges of depression and anxiety, and in couples and family counseling.