Why you have to pick your parenting battles

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Every morning is the same in our house. I battle with my son about him taking a shower. We then battle about him getting dressed. Following this come the battles to clean his teeth, pack his bag and put on his shoes.

It's a rare occasion that he does what he's asked even on the tenth time of asking.

By school drop off I'm mentally drained. I've got no fight left and it takes all my energy to drink my tea. Despite all these battles, I know I'm not even close to winning the parenting war. Battle will commence again on school pick up.

So, is it any wonder that plenty of times I walk away from the battle ground? I admit defeat and wave my white flag of parenting surrender. I'm sick of hearing my own voice and I just, quite frankly, can't be bothered at that time.

Even the most resilient of battlers only have so much to give.

Sometimes I ignore the fact that he hasn't cleaned his teeth or put on a new school shirt. I let him watch the iPad in excess of recommendations and put an unhealthy treat in his lunchbox because he's just worn me down by asking TOO.MANY.TIMES.

But, I know I'm not alone. When I asked, multiple friends told me of the battles that they often no longer fight.

These included; horrendous outfits now worn in public, children taking their toys to school despite a personal rule of "no toys to be taken to school", eating on the sofa and in the car, walking on the dining room table at dinner and excessive screen time.

Mums of three pointed out that battles with number three were pretty much non-existent as they'd lost the willpower to bother - good news for those number three children!


But how important is sticking to our guns? Should we try to be stronger, or do we simply just need to pick our fights?

Psychologist Giuliett Moran of Empowering Parents says that it's important for children to have consistent boundaries and expectations. Without these they will test you as they're unsure of when the rule does or doesn't apply.

However, she notes that constantly reminding children to do everyday tasks, such as cleaning teeth or packing their school bag, may mean they need help with organisational strategies.

"Explain to them that they need to take responsibility and, if they don't, they will experience real-life consequences at school."

"Consequences teach children to take responsibility for their actions. But what is just as (if not more) important, is that we're teaching them that we mean what we say and that we're reliable."

Regardless of this advice, Moran acknowledges that parenting can be tough and says that parents need to look after themselves first and foremost in order to care for their families. If that means taking a break or putting things off until you feel up to addressing it, then so be it.

"Prioritising the importance of what is causing the battles is helpful and adopting a collaborative approach to re-setting these rules and expectations with your children is likely to result in better outcomes," explains Moran.

"I think the key thing to remember is to remind yourself that, despite how frustrating it can be, the things you're teaching your children are so important. In persisting and doing this hard work, it will make things easier for you in the long term."

Moran offers the following tips:

  • Stay calm when addressing a child who's doing the wrong thing. Remember you're setting an example
  • Follow through with consequences
  • If you do yell, snap or scream, talk to your child about this, how upset or angry you were and apologise for the way that you managed this
  • Consistency and communication is key - sit down with your children and discuss and develop the family rules/expectations
  • Prioritise the non-negotiable rules that you want for the house and the ones that you're willing to compromise on
  • Share the workload with your partner (where possible), so that you're both consistently implementing the same expectations
  • Highlight the positives and compliment children when they do follow the rules
  • Talk openly and honestly about feelings and emotions and use this vocabulary when following up with children (i.e. "thank you for brushing your teeth without me having to remind you, it makes me so happy" or "it makes me really upset that you haven't followed the rules and brushed your teeth")