Good advice can be hard to find. I got two really great pieces of advice in graduate school that have stuck with me. The first was to never to get on the wrong side of the school secretary because she can either make or break your work experience. This was particularly important as a school psychologist when I was dependent on the school secretary to facilitate so many of my needs in the school.
The second had been more complicated to apply but has been equally important at work and at home. My graduate advisor encouraged us to ask the question, “Do you really want to die on that hill?” It’s a deceptively simple question that can require deep thoughts, particularly when we apply it to parenting.
Hills This Parent Won’t Die On
My advisor’s question is really about what kind of battles do you want to fight. Picking the wrong hills with your kids can create stress for everyone in your family. Yet, we frequently dig our heels into the ground for trivial reasons. This then creates friction with our kids and we get upset, lose our cool, and nothing gets better.
- Should I really worry that my outfit that my child picked out doesn’t match?
- Does it matter if the side of the bed is a mess?
- Should I care if my kid eats the same thing every day for lunch?
These are questions that can really push our buttons when we confront a child who is unwilling to smoothly go along with our expectations. By asking whether or not you should die on this hill, you put your demands and expectations into perspective. You have to be willing to challenge your assumptions as to why you think this is important and if your child shares that same expectation.
Parenting Hills Worth Dying On
Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t hills worth dying on. Most of these, at least for me, fall into two categories.
The first and obvious one is around issues of health and safety. If a child is struggling with taking a medication that they need to have, you will need to figure out how (try these ideas). Clothing might not have to match, but it needs to be weather appropriate. And, meals have to be balanced and nutritious, even if they are monotonous.
The second category is placed where behavior negatively impacts another person. No, you can’t kick your brother or call him names. Leaving a mess that stops someone from doing their job is also a problem. These hills are worth dying on because we want our children to develop empathy and the conversations that we have with them can help build that valuable skill.
What Do I Do about the Other Hills?
So, if you have figured out which hills to die on and which ones to not, you still have to deal with the hills you didn’t die on. Simply not digging in your heels won’t make them go away. The bedroom will still be a mess and the clothing mismatched. This is where thinking like an innovative parent can really help you.
Think about what you are seeing and observing. Bring out your inner 3-year-old and ask yourself lots of why questions. Don’t just limit yourself to observing behavior, but think about the emotions and feelings that are happening. Ask yourself what else is happening. What happens when whatever that task isn’t done? Are there natural consequences that happen and do they matter?
Then, think about why this hill was important to you. Why does having them do this (whatever you were going to push them to do) is important to you or why you think it should be important to them? Why does your child not view this as a priority? What could the competing priority or need be?
Now, do a little brainstorming. What do you think could happen? Ask yourself how might we do this differently? Use your imagination, but keep the judgment out of it – think “Yes and..” rather than “But, no…)”
Finally (sort of) try out an idea that has minimal risk involved in it from a time or cost perspective. Make sure to observe what happens as you experiment. Make sure to look for both behavioral and emotional reactions. If you are successful, great! Parenting challenge managed. If not, use this cycle again, trying out new ideas using your new observations. Innovative parenting means being willing to try, fail, and try again.
Soon, you will find that there are plenty of other solutions out there for the places where you use to try to die on a hill.