My earlier days with getting my daughter prepared for school and dressed for the cold often went something like this;
Me; Eta the weather is cold, wear your cardigan
Eta; I am not feeling cold, I don’t need the cardigan
Me; please take your cardigan
Me; You are not leaving this house without if you are not wearing your cardigan (relying on her love for school)
Eta; It is not fair, should I be cold because you are cold? Okay fine (but will grumble to school and may pick a fight with her sister on the way. At other times she will double back and drop the cardigan in the living room, I will only notice she left it when we arrive at the school).
It was energy-draining, sometimes even frustrating.
I am sure many of us parents can relate to this, we run after our children to do their homework, forbid them to hang out with certain kids, we force them to pick up after themselves, or we pick up after them, struggle to get them to bed, hand down threats to get them to obey us and so on.
We demand these from our children because we erroneously believe that because we gave birth to them, we should have control over them. As you would have figured out these kids have a mind of their own.
In psychology, there is this concept; ’over performer- underperformer circle’ some others call it the ‘pursuer – distancer circle’. It merely means that once one person in a relationship takes on the role of trying to fix a thing, it unconsciously permits the other to become more irresponsible about that thing.
For me, the more I kept stressing over my daughter’s refusal to wear her cardigan, the more I permitted her not to acknowledge the cold she was feeling, I was over-performing for her instead of allowing her the opportunity to learn.
The same is true when a parent begins to get worried over a teen’s drinking. The more the parent inspects the child’s bag and belongings for alcohol, smells the child’s mouth when s/he comes back from school etc. the more likely the child indulges. The parent’s actions unconsciously free the child from reflecting on the harm the lifestyle is causing, the child instead focuses his/her energy on getting angry with the parent.
With my children now, I don’t tell them to wear their cardigan, our talk about the cold goes like this:
Me; Wow! The weather is so cold for me today I better get my cardigan, I think you should consider getting yours too
Child; I am not feeling the cold right now, but I will take the cardigan along just in case
Me; that is ok, I am taking care of myself so that I don’t come down with a cold, but you are not me so you may not be feeling as cold as I am feeling. (before we get to the door the both of my kids are all dressed in the cardigan)
Without seeking to control the child or her actions, I end up giving them enough to think about so that she can make the right choice and feel like it was a pure act of her will.
Once, my daughter decided to still go to school without her cardigan; I let the cold teach the lesson. When I picked them from school, she said to me; she was so cold in school that day and has decided always to take along, her cardigan no matter how hot the weather is because it can change at any time.
I showed her empathy but didn’t take away her learning by reminding her of our conversation earlier on.