How to Win Back Power from Too Clever Kids
Child too smart for his or her own good? Parents can take back the reins by being equally wise – with these seven tips.
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Kevin Reynolds knew he was in trouble when his daughter, Annabelle, started knocking her spoon off her high chair as a baby.
"It was a little annoying, but she got such a kick out of it that I let her do it," says the Shelby Township dad. "I remember thinking, 'This child is already controlling me instead of the other way around.' What am I going to do when she's a teenager?"
The answer was that he'd just be dealing with another stage and manifestation of his daughter figuring out what a lot of clever kids deduce – parents are fallible and can be manipulated to give kids what they want, whether that's privileges, allowances or a big huge pass when they behave badly.
That's not to say kids are always being devious or scheming. As children grow, they're learning how to assert their opinions, while at the same time trying to become more independent. It's normal. Yet this might not be any comfort at 10:30 p.m. when your 5-year-old insists on staying up late because mom let him a couple days ago.
While your kids' sometimes too-smart-for-their-own-good behavior might be developmentally right on track, that doesn't mean you should cave to their sometimes dizzying logic or manipulations. Keep reading for seven tips to help you navigate those times when your savvy kids seem like they have the upper hand.
1. Be consistent
When it comes to the rules of your house, there are some that are non-negotiable, like not running across the street without looking both ways, and others that are negotiable, such as bedtimes. Rushing into a busy street – life-threatening. Getting to bed a half-hour late? Not so much.
Obviously, as a parent, those non-negotiable rules are going to be more strictly enforced. And to your child, those rules are going to make more sense. She can see the cars on the street and understand the real danger. But it's the negotiable rules where your kids will put pressure on you to change your mind – or point out discrepancies.
Being consistent with these negotiable rules from an early age is key, explains Kathy Gleason, a mom and a licensed marriage and family therapist in Farmington Hills. Not only will you encounter fewer challenges on rules if you show consistency, as your child gets older (think: tween/teen years) and the rules become even more important, she'll be more likely to obey.
2. Make a rule list – together
"(When their kids are) a very early age, maybe 5 or even earlier, parents need to make sure they're on the same page with each other about rules," points out Gleason. Both parents should sit down together and write down the family rules.
When both parents agree on expectations, they can then more easily explain them to children – and, equally important, when a child tries to go from one parent to the other to get his way, he'll know that he's going to get the same answer.
"This is especially important when the parents aren't together," notes Gleason who advises divorced or separated parents to have regular discussions on negotiable and non-negotiable rules when it comes to parenting children.
Once you've established your list of rules as parents, you need to make sure that your children are aware of these expectations. You can handle this discussion a variety of ways, depending on the personality of your child and her age.
Gary Unruh, a licensed clinical social worker and the author of Unleashing the Power of Parental Love, suggests that parents meet with children regularly, even weekly, to review negotiable and non-negotiable rules. "Don't make a huge list," says Unruh. "You want to set it up so that both you and your child can be successful at following it."
If your child seems to have problems understanding and following the rules, you may want to discuss these expectations more often with both your partner and your child. Once you have the rules firmly in place and both parents and children are doing well, an occasional reminder might be all your kids need.