“Awww, mama, do I hafta?” As parents, how many times a day do we hear that plea, or one like it, from our children? Give most children a direction or task that takes away from what they are doing in that moment, and expect the fuss and resistance. In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I devote an entire chapter to this fact. Children will always test the limits. Children want to be helpful and cooperative, but their direction is oftentimes elsewhere. By setting healthy boundaries, with expectations, we can help our children turn those have-to’s into want-to’s.
“Sweetheart, it’s almost time to go to bed. You need to put all of your toys and stuffed animals back into the toy box, and then I’ll help you get ready for bed.” Megan’s mama was well-intentioned with this direction, but she left Megan with some wiggle room and frustrated with one more have-to task that she’d rather not do.
So, what are the possible outcomes here? If Megan wants to stay up longer, she can stall by not getting down to the clean-up task. Mom did qualify that she would put her to bed after the cleanup. Megan could also ignore her mom’s direction, drag her feet, or do the task poorly. Any of these options could lead to mommy getting mad and Megan having upset right before bedtime. This could lead to restless sleep, nightmares, or other disruption to her health.
How can mom encourage Megan to turn what she sees as a have-to, unfun chore into a want-to? There are several options. Young children typically respond positively to challenges. “I bet you can’t pick all this stuff up before I count to 50.” They are also appreciative of help. “Come on, sweetie, you take that side and I’ll take this side of your playroom.” Reward works as well. “Megan, if you get this chore finished before your bedtime, we can spend more time together, and I’ll read you a second story.”
Any of these options help your child turn a have-to into a want-to. Always active listen their feelings, frustrations, reluctance. Remind them of the benefits of doing things they might not want to do at first. Turning have-to’s into want-to’s have a way of becoming teachable moments.