Obedience vs. Cooperation

discipling-child-young-girl-stool-dad-hand-geture-childrenDear GHF,

I am tearing my hair out! I adore my kids, but they drive me crazy sometimes. I try so hard to parent them lovingly and with plenty of guidance, but they refuse to listen when I tell them what to do. It’s almost like they don’t understand that I’m the adult and they are the children. What can I do to make them obey?

Frazzled in Frankfurt

Dear Frazzled,

We’re not sure that “making children obey” would even come up in a how-to manual for raising gifted kids. It’s not that it wouldn’t be simpler to tell your children to stop what they’re doing and go sweep the kitchen and then have them jump up and do it; it’s that—especially with gifted kids—you might be setting yourself up for a power struggle that would impede communication and could damage your relationship in the long run. Some common characteristics of gifted kids include:

● Intensity
● Moral sensitivity & concern with their idea of justice & fairness
● Perseverant in their interests (i.e., stubborn and focused)
● Prefers older companions (and perceives adults as peers)
● Judgment mature for age at times
● Is a keen observer (monkey see, monkey do, and monkey might not make the distinction between what’s OK for you but not for them)
● Tends to question authority

These traits offer some insight into the tendency of gifted children to be other than docile and obedient. That’s not to say they won’t ever listen to you; however, you may need to take a different approach to achieve that goal. Obedience may come from authority or even from fear, but cooperation (which looks a lot like obedience in a certain light) comes from trust, respect, and mutual understanding.

Another point to consider is that your children may not be cooperating because their perception of a situation is different from yours, or they have a different suggestion that they’d like to try. When possible, it’s worthwhile to hear them out and attempt to understand their recalcitrance. Perhaps you can answer their questions, or consider their ideas. These sometimes astonishing young people often come up with solutions that work just as well as our own. That’s not to say that you should stop and have a lengthy discussion about why “red is for stop and green is for go” while your three-year-old is trying to race out into traffic. The relationship is what matters: if you can establish guidelines and spell out mutual expectations ahead of time, you can have more in-depth discussions later, if needed.

A benefit to this kind of interaction is the building up of trust and respect on both sides, which will lead to the children’s increased confidence in themselves and in you. It also gives them the opportunity to see you model respectful interactions and a constructive problem-solving process. Granted, it takes more time and effort than if they just obeyed, but it takes less time and effort than a power struggle and doesn’t incur the same collateral damage.

Check out the articles page on the GHF website for more information on living with gifted children], including the new article from Tracy Blom.

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