A client once asked my advice regarding bath time in her house – what once had been a fun, family-time activity, had become periods of fun mixed with splashing and fighting between her two young sons. She found herself having to play referee every night and had begun to dread the post-dinner routine. Nothing had changed, and nothing she tried (sticker charts, yelling, consequences, etc.) seemed to work, so what was going on and how could she fix it?
Instead of trying to find the reason behind the change in the interaction (especially as none was readily apparent), or try other strategies on top of the ones she had already implemented, I suggested that the boys take their baths – or better yet showers, as they were old enough – separately. Simple: take separate baths. This wasn’t an example of “caving” to their poor behavior, as neither of them was asking to be separated, it was simply an instance in which changing things up instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole, just seemed to make more sense.
The other day my husband needed our children to wash their hands before dinner. This can sometimes be met with resistance. Instead of the inevitable pattern of stalling, irritation, whining, yelling that can be so easy to fall into over such a small task, he tried a different approach: he walked into the other room and said to them, “Okay, whine as much as you can.” They did and laughed and then he told them, “Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, go wash your hands.” They laughed again, but actually did it.
These strategies, of course, do not always work, and it is essential for children to know what is expected of them and to be held to those expectations. However, there are also many times when if we try to parent a little flexibly, we can find easy, conflict-free solutions to everyday challenges, thereby reducing the overall amount of stress on a family. Sometimes simplifying parenting can have the best results.