FRYEBURG, MAINE — Raising children is a balancing act.
It's constantly balancing what you see as appropriate behavior with the children's perceptions of how to act. It's coming up with a solution that leaves both you and the children satisfied.
Sometimes it's tempting to give in to impatience and lay down the law. But I've found that helping our children gain a new perspective on their behavior brings about the desired results quicker and more effectively than other methods.
Take chores. How do you gain cooperation in doing daily household tasks?
In our house, I typed the children's chores on file cards and fastened these to the refrigerator with small magnets. Every morning there were fresh groans when I remind them to do their chores.
One day, tired of their complaints, I typed up a list of the daily duties that I had to do each day. These filled two cards, and I fastened both of them to the refrigerator. The next morning when I my reminder was met with the usual chorus of wails, I suggested they look at my list.
"Next time you get tired of your chores," I announced, "I'll be happy to swap with you." I had no takers. And the griping came to an end.
What about bickering among siblings on a long car trip? I'm sure that only happens in our family.
On one such occasion I said to them, "Can you imagine your grandmother, grandfather, and Auntie Mil behaving this way in the car?" Then it occurred to me to pretend that the oldest child was Grampie, the middle one, Grammie, and the youngest, Auntie Mil.
When they started to squabble, I said, "Now, Grammie, stop fussing. You can sit by the window after the next stop." Or "Auntie Mil, stop poking Grampie or you'll be sent to bed early tonight." It worked.
Seen from the perspective of loved and respected relatives, their misbehavior looked ridiculous, even to them. Thereafter they needed only an occasional reminder, delivered in the same way, to ensure a harmonious trip.
Here's a final example of how a fresh perspective can change behavior and even quell fears.
At bedtime, our three-year-old daughter used to talk about tigers outside her window and expressed fear of the dark. Rather than attempt to presuade her otherwise with words, one warm fall evening I asked her if she would like to go out for a walk in the dark.
She seemed a bit apprehensive at the idea, but agreed when I told her we'd take a flashlight and she could shine it around. We put her bathrobe on over her pajamas, told Dad our plans, and went out the front door with our flashlight. I held her hand as we walked around the yard. She shined the light under her bedroom window and into the wooded area bordering the yard. When we returned to the house, she went contentedly to bed. That was the end of the "tiger" talk and fear of the dark.
It's not always easy to put a fresh spin on such challenges, but the results in our family have been well worth the effort.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.