Apr 082015 0 Responses

Kids Are Supposed to Test Us

We have a job to do as parents. We are expected to create a climate in which our children can thrive. Rules, expectations, and normal operating procedures are to be clearly communicated so our children know what is expected of them.

They have a job to do as children.

Children are supposed to test us.

Obviously this isn’t their only task. Yet it is a vital aspect of learning, understanding, and growing. Children need to test our boundaries in order to see if we will do what we say. They need to experience for themselves the value we place on the rules we give. They need us to demonstrate a willingness to hold them accountable to the choices they make. (See: Three Ways Parents Discourage Their Children)

This is part of their job. Yet many parents are shocked, frustrated, and confused when their children do the very thing children are supposed to do. While it’s understandable to experience weariness from the difficulties of parenting, it is foolish to be surprised whenever our children test a boundary we have placed in their lives.

Parenting would be easy if our children would blindly obey us. The day-to-day struggles of parenting would disappear if our children would simply do what we say. But something far greater would be lost. While our lives would be easier, their lives would be far worse.

The relationship between a parent’s authority and a child’s obedience is essential for a child to understand how to interact with every authority they will have over them and how they will express authority over others. Many employees who struggle with their bosses do so because they were not properly taught by their parents. The correlation between crime and an absence of a nuclear family in a child’s life should not be surprising. Even the basic law of cause and effect is difficult to understand when parents do not appropriately respond to a child testing the parents’ limits. (See: Why You Should Never Yell at a T-Ball Umpire)

Whenever I properly hold my child accountable to the rules they have broken, I am teaching them:

  • consequences of choices
  • you control much of what happens to you
  • authority is to be respected
  • many things in life are predictable

Whenever I cave to the bad behavior of my child or continually overlook their disobedience, I am teaching them:

  • life is unpredictable
  • you cannot control anything in your life
  • it doesn’t matter what I say
  • authority is to be ignored or disrespected

Few things in parenting matter as much as how I respond whenever my children defy the rules I have put in place. But that is their job. It is an aspect of growing up in which they need to test my rules in order to experience the consequences of their poor decision-making.

As a parent I must recognize and expect my children to test my limits and boundaries. I should not take this as a personal attack of a specific disrespect of me. I should understand it is a natural element of maturing and understanding the world.

But I should also recognize it as one of the most important moments of parenting. In this moment, I have the opportunity to show my child what true love is—patient, firm, consistent, and allowing them to control their own lives even if that means experiencing the negative consequences of their own decision-making.

There are three major ways kids try to test their parents:

Bad behavior. This is the first one we experience when our children are at a very young age. While its expression might change as the child ages, the basic premise stays the same—act poorly enough for long enough and my parent might change their mind. From the two-year-old throwing the temper tantrum to the 15-year-old screaming, bad behavior is an effective way to test parents’ limits because parents are tired. Of course, it is tempting to give into a child throwing a temper-tantrum in public. Give them the candy, stop the public scene, and deal with things later. Yet remember—every time you submit to your child’s negative behavior, you are reinforcing the behavior. You are telling them, “If you don’t like what I say, act poorly and I might change my mind.” (See: What a Child’s Mistake Reveals About a Parent)

Emotional manipulation. As a child ages, they learn new ways to test us. Emotional manipulation runs the gamut of a small child saying, “Mommy I love you” right before they ask for something they want, all the way to a teenager telling his step-mother, “You aren’t my real mom.” If bad behavior attacks our physical weariness, emotional manipulation attacks our mental well-being. A child can learn very quickly what hot-buttons to push in order to get a parent to change the rules. (See: Obey Your Mother, Respect My Wife)

Splitting the parenting unit. A common tactic by children is to create a wedge between husband and wife in order to get what they want. If you don’t get the answer you want from one parent, simply ask the other parent. This is a game the parents must refuse to play. Nearly every day I find myself saying, “Have you already asked your mother? And what did she say?” Even if I don’t understand what she said, I make the child stick with the first answer they received. Our children need to know that not only will I not say ‘yes’ to something their mother has already said ‘no’ to, but I will not even allow you to ask the question. It is a violation of house rules to ask one parent something when you have already received an answer from another parent. Violating this rule must have consequences. (See: How Parents Influence Their Children)

Children test their parents. It’s an important part of growing up. And every time a child tests a boundary the parent has put forward, it is a tremendous opportunity for the parent to allow the child to understand a lesson.

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