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Frustration is Necessary

by Keith McCurdy

With regularity I am asked by exasperated moms and dads “why do we keep getting into arguments with our kids when we ask them to do things?”  It seems that one of the most common battles in parenting is trying to get our children to comply with our wishes and the conflicts that ensue.  “We argue, debate, threaten and negotiate on a regular basis, but it rarely seems to improve the process”, one mom exclaimed recently in my office.  So why do we get so entangled?  I would suggest that one reason is that we believe, at least at some level, that we need our children to be OK with what we are asking of them.  Even the notion that we should be “asking” our children in matters of obedience is a little questionable.

Over the years the very field that I am trained in has, I believe, done a disservice to many parents.  How many books and articles written by those of us in the mental health arena recommend that we give our children all of our reasons for what we are requesting of them?  How many suggest that we ask our children to follow along instead of requiring obedience?  We are told that when our children ask why, that we should give them a full explanation and of course never respond with, “because I said so.”  How many of us think that we don’t have the right to just demand or require things or our children?  These are just a few examples of how our culture today has watered down the authority of parents.  We have become negotiators attempting to gain agreement with our children instead of parents who demonstrate authority.  Yet, most of us know that this process is wrong.

When we are attempting to gain agreement, we have bought into the idea that it is our job to keep our children happy or that we are to never be the source of their discomfort.  When we negotiate with our children, rather than hold them accountable for their choices, we are communicating that we have no authority over them.  When we give reason after reason for what we require, the message is that our authority alone is not sufficient for their obedience.  This is a recipe for disrespect and disobedience and is a great disservice to our children.

In contrast, when we clearly state the expectations on the front end (and only the expectations) and then hold them accountable on the tail end, they usually aren’t going to be that happy.  But in the long run they begin to be obedient to the authority, not because they agree with it, but because they respect it.  They will realize that it is non-negotiable.

This switch of perspective is tough.   It is hard to realize that it is OK for our children to be upset.  I would even suggest that it does our children good to be frustrated and that part of our job is to frustrate them.  It is the process of working out of their frustration that promotes growth.  When a child has to work to a solution for their frustration, they develop both competence and character.  When we give in to our children to keep them happy or we negotiate issues of obedience, they learn to become master manipulators.

We are told in the beginning of the book of James that we are to be happy in tough times because through these times we develop the ability to persevere.  This perseverance will eventually lead to maturity.   Sounds like a good description of parenting.  If we want our children to be durable and mature, we need them to go through the tough times of childhood.  There is no tougher time to a child than when they have to be obedient to something that they don’t agree with or like.  So ask yourself this week,” am I negotiating with the kids or am I requiring obedience”?  “Am I promoting maturity in my child or just keeping them happy”?

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