“Mom, can I invite a friend over today?”
I hesitate. I want my daughter to have friends over, but today is simply jam packed.
“Nope. Not today.”
Five minutes later. “Mom, can I have a playdate?”
What the…? Didn’t I just answer this same question five minutes earlier?
“No, we’re way too busy today.”
1 hour later, we’re in the kitchen, putting away dishes. Both my kids turn to me and ask, “Mom, can we puh-leese have a friend over?”
Ok, enough already.
If you’re reading this, nodding your head in agreement, you know my pain.
Not only is it annoying getting asked the same question over and over, but it also triggers my people pleasing tendency to not want to disappoint.
A tendency that makes it VERY, VERY hard to effectively parent.
Are you being too nice as a parent?
I remember the first time a student called me out on my lack of discipline – harsh, but true.
It was my very first semester teaching and I was that teacher who wanted to be adored by all her students.
Looking back, my fifth graders knew this and twisted it to their advantage.
One day, my students lined up inside the classroom door for lunch recess and Luis would just not stop talking.
I asked for quiet, he turned around and whispered to the boy behind him.
I waited and stared. He appeared oblivious.
Here I was, a brand new teacher, thinking that I was being patient and setting firm limits.
Then one of the girls turned to me and said, “Mrs. Crohn, you’re too nice.”
But, she was right. I was being way too nice.
When our kids engage in a behavior that drives us crazy – such as asking the same question over and over – we can still be nice, but we also need to.
Set a firm limit
There’s a huge reason that my kids ask me questions over and over.
I’m a waffler.
I will constantly second guess my own decisions as a parent. Maybe I think I’m being too strict, or too inflexible.
Shouldn’t kids be able to have fun? Isn’t that what childhood is for?
(The internal monologue that leads me to destruction every single time)
Instead, what works best isn’t some trick or parenting advice that’s impossible to remember.
What you say the first time goes.
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Now, I say this with a bit of a disclaimer. I am all for negotiating and this is not a be-all-end-all for totally stonewalling our kids.
In fact, Po Bronson, author of the book Nurtureshock, quotes Penn State researcher Dr. Nancy Darling:
“The type of parents who are actually most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are most warm and have the most conversations with their kids. They’ve set a few rules over certain key spheres of influence, and they’ve explained why those rules are there.”
You’re building a relationship with your kids when you set firm limits. They’re allowed not to be happy with your decision.
In fact, I would be suspicious if my kids didn’t quite to negotiate my limits. I would think, what alien beings have infiltrated my kids?
In the case of having friends over, I knew that I didn’t want people over that day. That was my limit and I explained it.
Enforce the limit
Ok, here’s the hard part.
I see many parents – myself included – fall into the too nice trap here.
When kids ask the question again, many parents respond in a very even tone of voice, “What answer did I just give you?”
We expect our kids to repeat it back to us. But they don’t….
Instead we hear: “I forgot.”
WHAT?! What do you mean you forgot? No, that’s not how this is supposed to go….
Where do you go from there?
Here’s the thing: You do not need to hide and cover your irritation. That doesn’t do an ounce of good. Because your child,
- doesn’t understand the social consequences of asking repetitive questions, and
- Has no clue that you’re getting upset
Instead, it’s OK to say (in a much firmer voice)
“I answered that question for you already. My answer is NO. If you ask that question again, it will make me mad.”
It’s OK to be angry
So much parenting advice we read stresses forming deep relationships with children where the presence of conflict is almost frowned upon.
When in actuality, conflict brings people closer together when the conflict is dealt with in a respectful manner.
Saying you are mad is preferable to losing your temper on the fifth time your child asks the same question because you can’t hold it in any longer.
According to Dr. Judith Smetana from the University of Rochester, “moderate conflict with parents is associated with better adjustment than either no-conflict or frequent conflict.”
Once you tell your child how you feel, the next time she asks the same question, its reasonable to say, “Not answering that again.” and walk away.
When asked about a playdate the third time, I said, “NOPE” and then turned and walked away.
You don’t have to be calm
I thought I did.
But by setting a firm boundary and then enforcing it, I found that the repeated question asking has noticeably decreased.
It’s OK to be frustrated after explaining yourself repeatedly and then walk away.