Six Ways to Get Your Parents to Behave…

Dear Emparenting,


parents-behave1You gotta help me!  I’ve been reading a lot about Emparenting, and I really want my parents to talk more respectfully to me, but they are forever acting out, bossing me around and treating me like an object.

They argue over the silliest things, and getting them to compromise is next to impossible.  I know there are a lot of techniques around to get kids to act nicely, but how can I get my parents to behave themselves?  Is punishment my only recourse?  Should I have more temper tantrums?

– Acting Out in Akron



Dear Acting,


I hear you, buddy!  My parents are right at the peak of their Terrible Thirties, and sometimes I feel like I’m nearing my wits’ end. Parents can be inconsiderate, bossy and moody, and when they’re tired they can be absolutely impossible.

Punishment, however, only increases the amount of negativity in the environment and is bound to backfire. Parents, like all people, grow resentful when they are scolded and will likely lash back or increase their misbehavior out of anger. The best thing we can do, as kids, is to encourage the behaviors we like to see and set a good example.  Here are some of the techniques that I find helpful.


1. Remember positive reinforcement

When your mom or dad practices Emparenting and takes the time to empathize with what you’re going through, let them know you approve by offering positive reinforcement.  A simple “good job, Mom” or “nice work” can go a long way.  When they really perform outstandingly, you can even offer a treat – like a nice Frappucino or a good cup of coffee.  With moms, in particular, chocolate seems to work wonders.  But be careful – if you give them a little piece, they’re likely to start asking for more.  Even when rewarding good behavior, it’s important to set limits.


2.  Use friendly reminders

How many times has your mom or dad yelled at you for no reason or talked to you not nicely? My parents are forever telling me not to talk back, but they have serious mouths on them.  It doesn’t take much to set them off, either. Yesterday, for example, I took a couple of cookies out of the cookie jar right before dinner, and made a few crumbs by mistake.  My dad shouted at me to “put those cookies back right now” and made me clean up the mess, frowning all the while.  Never mind that he’d just had three cookies of his own five minutes earlier.   Rather than yell back, however, I simply pointed out the inconsistency in a friendly way and suggested an alternative approach.


3.  Encourage them to find their own solutions

The other day my parents were squabbling over who would empty the dishwasher.  Both my parents work full time, and after a long day at the office they are exhausted and have no patience for housework.  Previously, I would have yelled at them to stop fighting or had a temper tantrum of my own to distract them.  But instead, I walked over and said: “It seems you disagree about who should empty the dishwasher.  Perhaps you could come up with a creative solution”.  Lo and behold, it worked.  They looked at each other, and were speechless for at least five minutes.


4.  Put yourself in their shoes

One of the most important things we can do as loving children is empathize with our parents.  You mentioned that you can’t stand it when they treat you like an object. Well, just because they’re old doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same respect that you do.  Let’s say your mom comes home in a particular crabby mood and starts behaving like a regressing forty year old.  Rather than get insulted and angry, take a few minutes to put yourself in her shoes.  Maybe her boss yelled at her.  Maybe she argued with a co-worker.  Maybe the girls at work didn’t want to sit next to her at lunch time.  Don’t presume to know what the problem is: ask her what is wrong, and invite her to share her feelings.

5.  Use Time-Outs Sparingly

When all else fails, a time-out may be in order.  Gently take your parent by the arm and ask them to take a breather in a quiet corner of the house. But remember: a time-out is not a punishment.  The purpose is not to make them feel bad, but rather to give them a few minutes of quiet time, to calm down and reconsider their choices.  Offer them a book, or even an ipod – and if you really want them to relax, give them a nice glass of wine.  You can even set a timer – but be prepared for resistance when you come to let them know the time is up.
6. Be generous with your affection

When it comes right down to it, parents just want to be loved.  They want to feel good about themselves and don’t want to be judged harshly.  Before offering up a hefty dose of criticism, think how you feel when a teacher bawls you out for not finishing your homework or when kids pick on you in the schoolyard.  The best thing you can do to empower your parents to behave themselves is to encourage their self esteem and offer them a safe emotional space in which to thrive.  Follow these tips, offer plenty of hugs and kisses, and you’ll have your mom and dad Emparenting you in no time!


Good luck and let me know how it goes!