Do you ever feel as though you are maybe not as effective in your parenting as you'd like to be? Do your children routinely ignore you when you speak to them, and sometimes talk back, or argue with you? If so you are not alone--of all of the issues I've faced in coaching parents, this is the most common frustration.
Parents want to be taken seriously. We want to be respected, paid attention to, and obeyed. When you think about all we've been through for them--the pain of labor, the sleepless nights, the diaper disasters and other messes, not to mention the money and time we spend trying to keep them happy--a little respect and obedience doesn't seem too much to ask, does it?
Setting aside the problematic phrase "trying to keep them happy" (I'll deal with that in a minute), the issue may be that you haven't learned the language. In fact, you may not even know there is a different "language" that effective parents use.
Let's take a quick quiz:
T or F: When you want your child to do something, always say "please."
T or F: Explaining the reason to a child helps them obey more quickly.
T or F: When your child does something destructive, ask him if or why he did it.
T or F: Always get down to the child's level before asking him to do something.
T or F: Say, "Thank you for obeying" when your child obeys.
The correct answer to all of the above is "False." Let me explain why (because you are an adult an actually want to know the reason.)
First--"please" and "thank you" are very important ways to demonstrate deference and respect in certain situations. However, effective parents don't ask, they tell their children what they want them to do. When a child obeys, he isn't doing you a favor, he's fulfilling a duty to you. When you say "thank you for obeying" you imply that he's done something nice for you.
Never ask a child if he did something when you know he did. He will only lie, and that will be on you. Never ask a child why he did something he shouldn't have done; 98% of the time he doesn't know why he did it, and anyway it really doesn't matter. You'll likely get into a lengthy and fruitless discussion, and lose sight of the simple fact that he disobeyed and should suffer the consequences.
Don't get down on a child's level to give an instruction--it diminishes your authority. Instead, just make sure you have eye contact. If you want to make sure he understood, say "Got it?" not "Okay?" Don't expect buy-in or agreement, just make sure he understood what you want him to do.
Explaining accomplishes nothing except to confuse the issue and delay obedience. You may explain if you'd like, but it won't cause the child to agree with you or obey any more willingly. If you decide to explain, make the explanation brief, and give it only once, "no buts!"
Now, for that phrase "trying to keep them happy"--if this is what your goal is--that your child is always happy--you will never, ever gain their respect. Trying to make and keep a child happy puts you in the role of a servant. Having a "servant's heart" is a lovely thing, but not when it comes to the parent-child relationship. The job of a parent is to lead, teach, and correct a child. You can't do that if you are always looking for ways to make them happy. The way to serve them best is to lead them, gently and firmly.
To be an effective parent, learn the correct vocabulary and use it. Tell, don't ask. Maintain your position of loving authority, both in your tone of voice and your physical position. Eliminate discussions about the reasons for disobedience. And be ready to implement consequences, firmly and dispassionately.
Genuine love begins with respect--make sure your child respects you, and your bond of love will be unbreakable.