“You didn’t say I couldn’t jump on her bed.”
“Where are we going? Why are we going there? Do I have to go? Why?”
“But last time you let me have an hour on the computer.”
You know the type. These are little lawyers in the making. They look for any loophole in your parenting or any inconsistency in your approach, point it out and make you sweat. They are hypervigilant about finding the smallest error and then blasting their way through to victory. They ask a million questions – some for simply the sake of asking. These types of kids can be a challenge for parents. But all is not lost. Let’s take a look at what might be motivating that legal mindset and find some worthwhile solutions.
Often the problem stems from a quest for control. By playing the part of lawyer, these children seek to gain a sense of mastery over the authority figures in their lives. By asking a barrage of questions, they position themselves to have the upper hand. We are not talking about inquisitive children who have a developmentally appropriate need to know. We are talking about those children who are simply asking to ask. You can tell the difference.
Another root cause may be hidden deep beneath the surface: a lack of trust. If you have child that seeks to challenge your authority, question every decision, and have trouble taking you at your word, you may have a child who has issues with trust.
You are indecisive. Children are perceptive. This is not shocking news but we generally do not fully grasp the degree of this skill. If you struggle with making decisions, your child will sense that. It erodes his sense of safety under your leadership. Children need to feel that they are taken care of, protected and safe. Once a decision is made, they need to know that you will consistently uphold it.
You give them too many choices. Many parents have adopted the popular parenting approach of offering choice to increase compliance. They give their children choice over what to wear (carry your jacket or wear it), what to eat, what time to go to bed (now or in 5 minutes), etc. This method does increase compliance, but it may have the nasty side effect of demonstrating to your child that they always have a choice. When given a choice between A or B, they may begin to think they are entitled to ask for C as well. Choice is good, but sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad.
Take a hike. Literally. You want your children to be in situations where they have to trust you. Hiking is a wonderful way to do so. Find a marked trail that you are familiar with near your home (you may need to get a trail map or do a trial run). Approach the outing with confidence- even if you get turned around, make it clear that you have got it under control.
Make clear decisions. If you cannot make a simple decision for yourself or your children, you need some practice. Start by making small decisions in which you can assert self-confidence and assurance like which sunscreen to buy. Don’t second guess or obsess over whether or not you made a good decision. If you have thought out the decision to the degree that it warrants, there is no need to overanalyze. Be confident and your children will follow suit.
Don’t entertain every series of questions. I am not saying that you become a dictator in your home and never dialogue with your family members. But sometimes, as the parent, you reserve the right to make decisions without the need to explain yourself. Simply say, “I know you have lots of questions about this event/outing/etc., but you can trust me. We would never do anything that would put your in harm’s way. We love you too much to do that.”
Cut back on choices. If you have adopted the approach outlined above of giving your child a choice at every juncture, you may need to cut back. Continue to give choices when appropriate, but don’t be afraid to make commands that have no options. Life will not always present your children with choices. It’s best to not give them the illusion that is does.
When it is all said and done, you may still have a lawyer on your hands. Some children are just wired that way. But you will have a greater understanding of the possible causes and be better equipped with solutions to help you handle your aspiring attorney.