For two weeks, Qi Hong Ching forced herself to look for alternatives to sound like a broken tape recorder … So, chaos reigned, or did Mom realize that her reminders weren’t as necessary as she thought? She shares the results of her experiment.
Over the last year, communication with my two children has become alarming. Every time I started declaring what they had to do or did, they tore me off with a frown of “I know,” pulling out “ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo In fact, just calling their names was sometimes enough to provoke an annoying “Chaaa?”.
Further exchanges usually ended in an unfortunate impasse: I ticked them for their “bad attitude” and they accused me of being “so annoying”. My standard remark – “I keep saying the same thing because you don’t do it, even though you keep saying you know” – would meet my eyes.
So when the new school year came, I told my children – an increasingly assertive 14-year-old and his equally insidious 11-year-old sister – that I would try “not to swear” for two weeks. Since they are old enough to know what to do and when to do it, I would tell them to do anything or not once. If my requirements are ignored, they should have consequences that will vary depending on the tasks or violations.
“For example, if I find that you’re messing with the phone, if you have to do your homework …” “You would buy me a new phone,” my daughter joked before I got tired of her familiar threat of confiscating their devices. .
The experiment will show whether they are as smart, disciplined and organized as they think, or whether my reminders are as necessary as I think. After two weeks of heroic restraint, I learned about it.
1. It relieves to quit whining
The ban on whining itself made me study why I do it. We all think we are begging our children for their good. But now I realize that I am switching to a mother-chicken regime mostly for my own peace of mind. I am a diligent planner who likes to do everything in advance. I hate when my stomach connects when I cut things too close to the deadline.
Work at home put them on my radar and added mental strain to me. When, say, a full hour after they come back from school and I see my kids still listening to the phones, my stress levels start to rise and my mind goes into overload. If they continue to procrastinate, they will have to stay up late to finish their work. If they finish work late, they go to bed late. If they go to bed late, they will be too tired to focus on the lesson the next day. And fuck, don’t drag me all this screen time!
Before my little social experiment, I could clearly express this whole line of thought and throw it off my chest. The badger of them thus served as a escape valve for the anxiety that seeped into me. I want them to do certain things so I don’t have to worry about them. But in doing so, I end up keeping track of the things that should be their responsibilities. This “say it once if necessary” policy returns the ball to their field where it belongs and frees me from unnecessary mental and emotional work.
So, despite the fact that I had to bite my tongue many times, I must say that the experience was quite free. It is their responsibility to remember what their responsibilities are and when they should be fulfilled, not on me to remind them to plan ahead. And if they, for example, miss the deadline for the project or slow down with the completion, it is not me who suffers, but their evaluations and credibility. I have to be okay with that.
Now that I feel the urge to languish, I remember the advice of sociologist and writer Christine Carter, who wrote: “No matter how hard it is for us to watch, our teens will make mistakes. If they do, our anxious over-involvement won’t help. Allowing our children to become the main decision makers does not mean that we become permissive, indulgent, or uninvolved. This means that the quality – if not the quantity – of our support is changing. We are giving up our role as their chief of staff and becoming more like life coaches. We ask questions and provide emotional support. ”
2. There are (best) alternatives to whining
It should now be clear that whining doesn’t work, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from doing it. And even though we all hate it when we are aching, we justify it as reminders with good judgment when we find fault.
While reading an article on how to stop whining on the health news portal WebMD, I was struck by a quote from marriage and family therapist Michelle Weiner-Davis: “When a person who is reminded is offended, it goes from reminder to whining. How behavior gets labeled depends on how the person hears it, not how the person who says it feels. ”
That my intention matters when what I say acts on my children’s nerves was a revelation to me – no wonder they just turn me off. The cavils don’t work because the main message is, “You’re not good enough.” As child psychologist Robert Myers said, “Vocation is a way to find flaws, and it tends to wear people out, not build them up.”
The relentless focus on what a person does or does not do generates resentment, which then escalates into resistance, even overt disobedience. One day when I reminded my daughter to wash a bottle of water that was still in her bag a few hours after she came back from school, she snapped, “You tell me many times to do something, I didn’t want to do it even more. ” Disabling my annoying switch gave me the bandwidth to step back and see that as a teenager who was proud of starting on her own, she felt infantile from my nagging.
Parenting experts are in favor of “catching the good” – recognizing the positive behaviors of children to reinforce them. This “virtuous circle” approach was quite effective. For example, after we praised our daughter for shelling shrimp for everyone at a recent family dinner without being asked, we noticed that she was more active in looking for ways to help around the house.
On the other hand, for errors in behavior, experts advise to clearly articulate expectations and then realize the consequences rather than languish if they are not met. So when I caught my son watching movies on a streaming platform on his laptop on the third day of this exercise instead of doing his homework, I made him log out of his account and change his password immediately. He can no longer watch his favorite shows at will (or secretly). Without me talking about it, he knew that his momentary lack of self-control had cost him that privilege.
3. I have to choose my battles
The moratorium on whining made me realize how many things I tend to sneak away: time in front of a screen, outdoors, time to eat, bedtime, time. This forced me to choose my battles carefully so as not to waste my hard-earned emotional credit on them. That means closing one eye when my son after school is lying on the bed in his sweaty uniform and socks for a good 20 minutes. I tell myself that he deserves some time to relax after a long day of following the rules and routines of school.
Learning to retreat brought unexpected dividends. One evening my son decided to have dinner after completing his homework, and showed up only at 10 p.m. The previous experiment I would have done would have talked him out about the illnesses of irregular eating times and poor time management. Instead, I offered to warm up his lunch and sat down with him while he ate. This led to a pleasant conversation about the activities planned for his CCA that week, and I was so excited that that evening I chose communication rather than correction.
But the lack of whining doesn’t mean not saying “no” and not setting boundaries. Some things are out of the question, such as security. Later this week my son happily planned a bike ride over the weekend with friends who saw them riding from East Coast Park to West Coast Park. We were thrilled with him but reminded him to wear a helmet. “No one wears a helmet. This is nonsense! ” He countered. That was our only condition, and if he decided not to comply, I said he would have to miss the trip. Saturday came, and he reluctantly put on his helmet as he left the house.
Trusting my kids to do the right things is much harder than just telling them what to do. But by respecting their autonomy and giving them a sense of freedom, I would help them build confidence and master self-efficacy. They may not always do things according to my schedule or preferences – my son’s perception of a tidy room is very different from mine – but they make an effort to do things that they know are important to them or to me. Partial victories are enough for me.
So now our home is a shelter without whining? Of course not. But now that I’ve been forced to look for alternatives because it sounds like a broken voice recorder, I’m less likely to turn on whining by default. When asked to rate my work so far, my daughter has been surprisingly friendly: “You’re not as annoying as you used to be.”
Li Hong Ching, a mother of two, is an editor.