Girl holds up yellow cardDo you live in fear of your little one? Does he or she call the shots?

It is quite common for parents to feel helpless in the wake of a toddler or small child who is flexing their little muscles and learning some (very effective) techniques of parent-control. These techniques can range from screaming, sulking, running for it, becoming a dead-weight or pester power– and some children use them to great effect. How often have you seen a docile parent follow their child around, or a Mum buying their ungrateful daughter clothes or treats? When the children are older have you heard the plaintive cry ‘it’s easier to do it myself’? Well, there is a reason for that and our kids are learning to keep us just where they want us!

And it is time the tables were turned.

So how can we re-gain some power when our three-year-old is running rings around us?

As parents, we need to understand that our children benefit from our setting boundaries. Permissive parents may have children who are free-spirited and creative. But children like to feel safe and protected, and a child who has learned to scream and fight for what they want is learning some warped lessons about how the world really works. Children who force their parents to give in are probably going to have problems with teachers and authority figures as they grow older. They are learning the lesson that they can make people do what they want.

Please don’t get me wrong though – these children are not bad children. They are normal children who are learning about the world through their interactions with others. It is why, as parents, we have to teach our children, gently but firmly. We all want our children grow up to be loving, caring, responsible adults. So sometimes we need to take control, even though our children may kick off. Although children may seem upset when they don’t get their own way, they need to learn that in real life rules exist. And it is easier to learn the lesson earlier rather than later. If our child has got to the point of disrespecting teachers, running riot in school or (heaven forbid) breaking the law, then we need to take action.

Ok so what can we do if our child is ruling the roost?

Firstly, we need to decide what rules we want to enforce. Sit down and work out what is causing concern. It could be that our child is staying up later than we feel is good for them, watching too much TV, eating too much junk food or just speaking in a rude or off-hand manner to us or other adults. Partners need to be involved in deciding the rules so they feel involved and part of the solution.

The next step is to explain the new rule to our child, and when it will come into force. Some rules may need to be started instantly, but if we can, it is nice to give children some notice that things are going to change.

We need to make it easy for our child to want to follow the rule. We can offer our child a reward if they manage to stick to it. We know our children best, so we can think of a reward that does not cost much, but will appeal to our youngster. Rewards should be small and easily earned. The best rewards are quality time spent with us or our partners.

However, if our child does not stick to the rule, we may need to have some consequences. The best consequences are those that help children learn from their mistakes, such as doing something nice for us or making amends. It is good if our child can say sorry (but only if they really mean it). Alternatively we may need to remove a privilege- like going to bed earlier or not watching a certain programme on TV. But here we will have to be firm and make sure that we stick to what we have said. Gradually our children will learn that there are boundaries and that pushing them leads to consequences – just like an adult caught speeding!

Ultimately, we are our children’s parents not their friends. Of course we want to get on with our children, and have a great relationship. But it is more important to help our children learn to be kind, thoughtful and respectful than to let them learn that they can control the adults around them. Sometimes ‘no’ has to mean ‘no’. And it is up to us to teach our children the lessons.

Please add a reply below and let me know what you think