Really, it is okay to be a boring parent! Seems counter-intuitive because we’ve been told for so long how good it is to be involved in our kids’ lives and how we must spend quality, fun time with them. Yes, that’s all good and I completely agree with all that but there is a place for boring.
Your four year old asks for the 100th time, “Can I have a biscuit?” and you say for the 100th time, “Yes, when you’ve had your dinner.” Your eight year old comes to you and asks again if they can go and play at the neighbour’s and you say again, “Sorry, sweetheart, we’re going to Nana and Pop’s today. Can you remember to ask me again tomorrow?” Your 11 year old comes to you and says yet again, “Can I go to the mall with my mates? Everyone else is allowed!” and you say yet again, “When you’re 14, we’ll talk again. In the meantime, I’m happy to come with you and be somewhere else in the mall for an hour while you’re with your mates. Got your phone charged?”
What I mean is it’s good to be consistent or ‘boringly repetitive’. Sometimes our kids are genuinely trying on their strength, but sometimes they’re just checking to see if the rules are the same as they were yesterday. It can be really reassuring for them to be met with the same consistent, boringly repetitive rules and reasons. Either way, it’s great if we can respond with warmth and firmness, good reasons if they need to be restated, and brevity.
Never underestimate the effectiveness of the brief reminder. No need to get tied up in knots because, “They should know this already because we’ve talked about it enough!” or to take it personally because, “Clearly they’re not listening.” Just restate the boundary and move on with the expectation that they will take it on board. We know that our kids tend to rise to our good expectations of them and usually that’s all that needs to be said. If that doesn’t settle it, you may need to redirect the four year old with, “What are you going to do until dinner? Play outside or with your dinosaurs?” The 11 year old might need to be reminded that, “The choice is go to the mall or not – it’s up to you. Let me know when you’ve thought about it,” and give them some space to process the decision.
Another stylish way of dealing with this is to get them to do the thinking. By that I mean simply asking, “What’s our rule about this?” or, “You’ve got a good memory, what did I say last time you asked me?” Please note sarcasm has no place in these conversations, which is a great shame because I’m quite good at it and my kids would agree! There are a number of good things about getting them to do the thinking. One is that they’re joining the dots for themselves, using their energy not ours and internalising our family values. They’re also exercising the frontal cortex – the executive functioning part of their brains which is crucial the older and more independent they get. We know in terms of brain plasticity that whatever we use gets stronger and more efficient.
So there you go. If your kids complain you’re boring, just smile knowingly and say, “Yeah, I know. Cool, eh?”