The Parent Who Cried Wolf – why your child does not listen


You know the story…a young shepherd boy routinely tricks the townspeople into thinking his flock is being attacked by wolves. Over and over, he cries “WOLF!” and the townspeople come running. Then, the moral of the story comes around when a real wolf shows up and no one reacts when the shepherd boy calls for help. The flock is destroyed.

Why has this not become a story about parenting? What is the moral of the story for parents?

As parents, we are always on the lookout. We are the protectors of our own little herds.

But, sometimes we talk too much.  WAAAY TOO MUCH.

When we talk too much, our words, our warnings, our “lessons” can become less powerful because they get lost in all the other words. You’ll end up sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher and your words won’t mean much.

Sometimes children do not listen to warnings or follow directions simply because they are given too damn many. A parent who gives too many directions will more than likely have children who are less likely to follow them (including the important ones). 

Think about it…its a simple truth

The more directions you give, the less likely each one will be meaningful. No parent is going to follow through with every request, but at least be aware of it. When you get ready to ask your kid to “come here,” you better be prepared to get up and walk her over when she does not follow the direction. If you really do not want to get up (and ultimately won’t), don’t ask…it must not be that important anyway. 

If you give 20 requests or directions within an hour, and you follow through on one of them, guess what? You just taught your kid that 19 of 20 directions do not matter. You have actually taught your kid more about NOT following directions than you taught her about being compliant with directions.

The same is true about warnings and cautions of danger.

If you over-caution or over-warn your kids, they will be less discriminate of things that are actually dangerous or require caution. They will learn this because you have “cried wolf” too much.

“Don’t touch that” has been said so many times and, most of the time, touching “that” has been reinforced by touching something that looks or feels cool. No danger really. “Actually, this is pretty cool,” they say as you turn the page on the most recent People magazine to see who is pregnant and what celebrity marriage has “surprisingly ended.”

Guess what happens when they are hovering over the poison ivy plant and you say, “dont touch that?” You’re looking at salt baths and caking on layers of nuclear looking pink liquid for the next week. You follow this with your frustration of saying, “I told you not to touch that,” as if the lesson is going to be learned “this time.” No its not. “This time” is the single, seemingly random occurrence when something bad happened when you said “don’t….” All the other 500 times NOTHING happened. Stock up on the lotion…

So what is the moral behind this story?

Be careful about how many requests you give.

Be careful when you make requests. Make them count. Make sure your kids follow through with requests more often than you let them be noncompliant. Don’t give requests that are simply not going to be followed.

Sounds simple…it is. Doing it is the hard part.

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