Your son is making it very clear that he doesn’t want to play or go to practice. He might be adamant, anxious, even tearful. Saying to him Okay, we’ll pass on it feels too soft and all but promises a repeat performance the next time your son’s supposed to participate in something he doesn’t want to do. On the other hand, insisting that he go—tears or panic or tantrum and all—feels too authoritarian, and downright unkind. What to do? Again, the chances of coming up with the “right” answer improve as the quality of the questions you ask yourself in the midst of these situations improves. Here are seven questions that can help guide you toward solutions in which kids don’t feel muscled into activities any more than parents feel disabled from parenting their children.
1. What am I hoping to accomplish in this particular situation (avoid setting a precedent, showing my son who’s in charge, showing him that I believe in him, keeping his dad from calling him names, getting him to try something new)?
2. How much of that will actually take place if my son and I are in conflict with each other?
3. Are there places where my objectives and my son’s objectives overlap, and can be brought into play as good starting points for discussion (for example, we’re both committed to him making a couple of friends)?
4. Is my relationship with my son characterized by too much leniency and accommodation, telling me that I need to figure out what I think is truly critical for his growth and then commit to following through on it?
5. Or have I been too rigid, not taking into account that my son is getting older, or alternatively, always thinking that I know what he needs better than he does just because my own parents used to make decisions that way?
6. Are there other ways to accomplish what it is I think is important for my son to experience (e.g., getting exercise, making friends, taking risks) than through sports or physical activity, or am I working too hard to avoid conflict over what shouldn’t be a big deal?
7. If I “stick to my guns” here, what will I actually be accomplishing (maintaining my position as the one who is in charge, embarking on an ugly road with my son, causing him to lose faith or trust in me, getting him to a place where he can see that he is more capable than he believes he is, a combination of the above), and is it worth the potential rift in our relationship?
—Janet Sasson Edgette, PsyD