As parents, we would love to believe that the world is a safe place for our children to explore and learn. Generally, that is true. However, there are certain dangers out there – some which are merely things our children haven’t encountered and learned about yet and some that are lurking in wait. Because of these things, there are times when we genuinely need our children to listen to us right that second and to comply with what we say.
One method to ensure this, and one that many parents attempt to use, is with total compliance. If our children immediately comply with our requests every single time, then we have no fear that they might not do so in a situation involving danger. If you ignore the fact that this takes away our children’s free will, the idea may sound great in theory. One word from us, and our children are protected. The problem with total compliance is that it doesn’t exist. Adults are not 100% compliant. Add to that the fact that children have not mastered impulse control (which could also be said about adults), and you have a very unpredictable situation.
The approach my husband and I have taken is to explain our reasoning for things. We don’t make blind requests and expect our children to immediately comply. We explain the reasoning behind our requests in order that they might learn. We also listen to our children when they present their points of views and reasoning.
Because of this, we have built a bond of trust with our children. They know that we will not make requests without reasons, as we take the time to explain our reasoning. When they hear us say something without giving an immediate reason, they understand that we do have a reason and that it must be important.
We take the time to explain to our toddlers about hot pans and what might happen if they touch a hot pan. Later, if we see them reaching for a hot pan, we can quickly say “hot!” and they stop, giving us that time to scoop them up and explain that we saw they were about to touch a hot pan and that we didn’t want them to get hurt. When my five year old was caught up in the excitement of the day and almost skipped into a parking lot, not seeing the coming car, all I had to do was say “Wait!” She knew it was important and that I had a reason. She immediately stopped and I explained, with her safe in my arms.
There have been a few times we were in parking lots and I had a bad feeling. My instincts told me to get the kids in the van and lock the doors. During those times, I quietly said to my children, “Please get in the van quickly. I’ll explain later.” My children trust that I always have a reason for requests and that I willingly share those reasons with them. In those times, they have quickly and quietly gotten into the van, following my directions while they wait for me to explain what is going on.
Expecting total compliance is unrealistic. No one complies all of the time. My husband may forget to take out the trash when I have asked him to or not have time because he is running late. I may not have time to do something that he has asked me to because tending to a hurt child was more important or I was ap at night taking care of my children or not feeling well. Our children have their own reasoning, which may or may not be quite as developed as ours, built upon experience, is. If we take the time to explain the reasons behind our requests, they learn why we do different things. By listening to them and their reasoning, we model listening and mutual respect. Through these means, we develop a bond of trust which serves well in those times when safety is at question.