As parents, it can feel like we spend our lives saying, “no!” Much as we hate doing it, sometimes dictator mummy has to step in and be firm.
- “No, you can’t eat ice cream for breakfast.”
- “No, you can’t wear your goggles to school.”
- “No, you can’t sit on your brother’s head.”
I’ve spoken before about the importance of saying things in a positive way (e.g. “Ice cream is a pudding. For breakfast, we have cereal.”), but however you phrase it, we need to set boundaries for our kids. It’s our job to keep them safe and healthy and ensure they’re growing into adults who can function in society.
Dictator mummy makes the rules and needs to enforce them.
And some days it feels like all we’re doing is refereeing our children as they lurch from one boundary to another. Voices are raised, tempers get sparked, and both parties end up frustrated and unhappy.
That’s not the family life I signed up for.
The answer? Don’t be dictator mummy! Yup it really is that simple. But wait! Don’t click away – I completely agree with you that boundaries are important and that kids need rules.
Keep reading and you might just find out how to do both…!
But first let’s start with dictator mummy… You’ll hear it spouted by parenting experts the world over – consistency is key!
Children (and adults!) learn through repetition. Even as babies, our children learn that they cry and we pick them up, or they suck the teat and the milk comes out.
And the more consistent we are, the quicker our kids will learn. If they’re sometimes allowed to climb on the wall and sometimes not, they won’t learn either way. If they’re never allowed (or always allowed) to climb on the wall, they will learn much more quickly what the rules about the wall are.
Consistency takes away confusion because the answer is always the same. It gives children an open place to play and explore within clear boundaries.
Stick to your guns
But it’s not just about being consistent with our rules. It’s about being consistent with our words.
So if you say, “We’re walking this way today”, you need to make sure your walk that way. You said it, so it’s happening, even if your child is determined to walk the other way. Even if they have a tantrum about walking your way. Even if it doesn’t really matter which way you walk, STICK. TO. YOUR. GUNS.
Be consistent. If you change your mind now, you are telling your kids that what you say doesn’t matter or that everything is negotiable.
Shocked? Well don’t be – keep reading!
Don’t be dictator mummy
So I’ve just told you to stand by what you say, whether it matters or not, even if it causes hassle and friction, but now I’m saying don’t be dictator mummy. Is that even possible?
Well yes it is and the key is giving options.
If it doesn’t matter which way you walk, give your child the choice. You could say, “Shall we go this way or that way?” Or even, “Which way would you like to walk today?”
By giving options, you child has a feeling of independence and equality, without you having to back peddle on what you said and without causing an argument. Your child has autonomy within the boundaries that you have set for them.
So the real trick is to think before you speak – can I offer any options about xyz or is this something that I need to be firm about? Can my child select something from the menu or do I know they’ll only want to eat sausages? Can my child choose his clothes this morning or does it need to be shorts?
If you decide to tell your child what to eat or wear or which way to walk, then stick with your decision (and whenever possible, explain to your child why you’ve made that choice). If you decide to give them options then go with the decision they make.
By being consistent, you child will learn that your yes means yes and your no means no. There is no point in bargaining because when mummy says something is happening, it happens. They will learn that they can trust what you say.
This will be a great comfort when, for example, you drop your child off at nursery and tell them you will be back to pick them up at lunchtime. Or if they are worried about their exams and you reassure them that you love them no matter what. You have proved time and time again that you stick to what you say, and so they can be confident knowing that you are telling them the truth.
It is also critical when it comes to things like road safety – your child needs to know to stop the instant you tell them to.
95% of the time should be a discussion
But it is unfair, unkind and unnecessary to use this level of authority at all times (and nobody really likes being dictator mummy). We actually need to keep “decrees” to an absolute minimum.
I would argue that almost every situation can involve some form of discussion with your child. They are real people with opinions and emotions and desires, and I don’t think we have the right to order them around just because we’re adults.
I believe in treating children with respect.
So be mindful of the language you’re using. Speak openly so that your child can talk things through with you and explain your thinking to each other. But remember that if you happen to say “you can only have 1 more sweet,” even if you said it without really thinking, you need to make sure that they only have 1 more sweet!
That’s how trust is built up because you always go through with what you’ve said.
It also makes you more honest and thoughtful about the way that you speak to your child because you have to stand by the words that come from your mouth. You’re much less likely to issue threats like “Sit still or we’re leaving the restaurant” if you know that you’re bound by your words. Instead, you have to think more creatively and say, “Sit still or you’ll have to come and sit outside with me for 5 minutes.”
This style of parenting is actually the opposite of a dictatorship because you offer MORE choices. It is also a very respectful way of parenting which welcomes and encourages our children’s choices and feelings. And it means that we are more honest with our children instead of throwing out empty threats to scare them into doing our bidding.
But you can’t have one without the other.
If you only offer options and never stick to your own decisions, you will spend your time bargaining with your child and they will effectively be in charge, knowing they can get their own way by tantruming or shouting.
If you only dictate to your child, they will resent you and either end up defiant or broken.
Stick to your guns without being dictator mummy!
So over to you – is this similar to the way that you parent or do you take a different view? Are you good at sticking to your guns or do you often give in to your child? Do you find dictator mummy creeping in from time to time or are you quite laid back? I know this could be quite a hot debate so please leave your thoughts respectfully in the comments section below.
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